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Happiness is(n't) in the Having

Chapter Text

"Because the one thing I want...it's something I know I can't have."

There's a pound at the door of the dungeon. Death's waiting for them. She's coming for them.

"But I think I know- I think I know now."

And Cas... Cas is talking.

"Happiness...isn't in the having, it's in just being. It's in just saying it."

Dean doesn't understand a word he says.

"What are you talking about, man?"

Cas smiles. He smiles like he knows Dean is lost. He smiles like he's waited for this. (If Dean only knew what this is.)

"I know- I know how you see yourself, Dean", Cas says, and takes a step in his direction, and what is he doing, what is he saying, what does this have to do with anything, what-?
"You see yourself the same way our enemies see you. You're destructive, and you're angry, and you're broken...and you're Daddy's blunt instrument."

And Dean doesn't get the point of this, doesn't need to hear those things, doesn't need to be told, and not now, not-

"And you think that...your hate and anger, that's what drives you, that's who you are. It's not", Cas says and Dean's brain doesn't catch up, and are there tears in Cas' eyes? 
"And everyone who knows you sees it. Everything you have ever done, the good and the bad, you have done for love. You raised your little brother for love, fought for this whole world...for love. That is who you are."

There's a pound again. This is what their nearing end sounds like. He barely hears it.

He hears every word, though, grasps their meaning, and understands none of it. He knows this is Castiel talking, talking to him, but it doesn't feel like it. Because why would Cas say such things to him. Why would anyone say such things to him? But Cas...Cas. Cas just keeps talking, keeps talking as if any of this were true, as if any of this didn't meet unworthy ears.

"You're the most caring man on earth, you are the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know. And ever since we met, ever since I pulled you out of Hell, knowing you has changed me."

He feels like watching the scene play out from afar, listens to the angel's words, recognizes the soft voice as that of his best friend, mesmerized by its tone and the words Cas strings together, far too good and beautiful for this dark cellar surrounding them, far too good and beautiful for the bangs at the door Dean can hear echoing somewhere in the back of his mind, far too good and beautiful to be witnessed by someone like him. He can see the tears streaming down Cas' face, they make the blue of his eyes glisten and it's always been hard not to get lost in those eyes, but now, now, with those words reverberating around him in the air and the smile that reflects in them, it's damn near impossible.

"Because you cared, I cared. I cared about ...you, I cared about Sam, I cared about Jack, but- I cared about the whole world, because of you."

He watches himself staring and is helpless against it. He's powerless against any of this, lifting a finger or uttering a word feels like more of a challenge than fighting Death who's waiting outside the door. There are things happening around him, flowing around him, enveloping him. It feels like the air is whirring with something - emotion, sound, meaning - but at the same time it's calm and empty. His head is numb yet throbbing as he tries and fails to grasp any of it. Everything is weird, everything is wrong. And there's pounding at the door, pounding in his head, pounding of his heart in his ears, and the steady stream of Cas' voice, Cas' gentle voice that cuts through it all and that he's unable to stop. It's all there and none of it feels real.

"You changed me, Dean."

This isn't something that happens. This isn't something that happens to people, not even to good people, not to deserving people, and certainly not to him. This isn't something that happens in real life at all, not in normal lives, and absolutely not in theirs. This is something that happens in movies, perhaps, in sappy romantic dramas that Dean would never admit to watching. But this doesn't the hell happen. And not to him. Not to him. (Not with Cas...) Not-

"Why does this sound like a goodbye?"

He knows. His mind can't grasp it, refuses to grasp it.

I made a deal, Dean hears in a loop repeated in his head. Out of this whole impossible speech, that's what he hears. The price was my life.

Because this is something that happens to them. This is something that has happened to them. This is something he can understand. This is something he can work with, something he can fight, something-

Except that he can't fight it, can he? Not this time, not this. He knows that, too. And so does Cas.

"Because it is."

Cas is smiling. He's smiling and Dean can't stand it. There are words in his throat, words that haven't reached his mind yet, words that never leave his mouth, either.

"I love you."

He thought his world could only be turned upside down once an evening, how presumtuous of him, how gullible, like believing the end of the world could happen just once. 
He can see the tears in Cas' eyes, this thing that looks distinctly like happiness even to him, who wouldn't know, for when had he ever related to that word...but it's there, pouring out from every cell of the angel's being. And for the first time in years, Dean is lost.

There are things he should say, something tells him. He should know what it is, he knows that he should know. But his mind is blank and there's a lump in his throat when he swallows and there are tears in blue eyes that shouldn't be smiling.

"Don't do this, Cas", he hears himself say, of all the things he could have said now. Because that's what he knows how to say.

Because maybe it's not too late yet, maybe they can blow this whole insanity off, wait for the door to open and for Billie to kill them both. Maybe-

He hears it coming, a sound like water, ink-black and hungry. He turns just to see what he already knows will be there, an opening in the wall, clawing forward, eating away at the warding. The moment he turns back is the moment the door finally flies open and he knows they're trapped. They were all along, but the whole hopelessness of their situation hits him now, pressing the air from his lungs, making his already stinging eyes water.

"Cas?" He's not sure what he wants to hear (he's already been given all the words he could wish for, all the words anyone could wish for, hasn't he), not sure what he's searching in those blue eyes that look far too calm and peaceful, with emptiness staring in his face and Death lurking in his back. The angel smiles that smile again, one that Dean can't decide on loving or despising. Then there's a hand on his shoulder, and no, not his at all, it's Cas' shoulder, Cas' shoulder on Dean's body, the one that had marked him as the angel's long before he'd known he was, and even longer before he'd accepted it.

When the Goodbye, Dean reaches his ears, it's already too late. Cas pushes him out of the way and into the wall, onto the floor, not enough to hurt (never), but with a power and determination that distinguish him as the former angel of the Lord he is. Dean sometimes tends to forget it, that Cas is that powerful celestial being and not just the same human mess they all are. He knows to hide it well, beneath beige trenchcoats, soft eyes and gentle smiles. He knows to hide it behind actions, too, the way he talks to them like they were equals, like friends, like family, the way he cares.

Dean can only watch as the Empty lurches forward and engulfs Billie, just how Cas had planned. He knows the angel will be the next to be overtaken by the same fate, just how Cas had planned.

It's not a decision. Not more than the immobility was that had frozen his muscles before and made it impossible to move. It isn't a thought that drives him to throw himself at Cas, between Cas and this supernatural entity he knows he can't defeat. He's done it before he even knows he moved at all, arms wrapped around the angel as tightly as possible. It was more like a reflex, an instinct, maybe. There was nothing else to be done, so why not do something insanely stupid?

He can feel it licking at them. Cold and dark and wanting. There's light, he thinks through closed eyelids. There shouldn't be light, should there, there should be darkness and silence and nothing. Instead, there's light and a high-pitched sound like a scream. Is it there or is he hallucinating? Maybe they're already gone and this is one of the memories he's being forced to relive (he has enough of those, doesn't he). But there's the solid warmth of Cas still in his arms, the fabric of a familiar trenchcoat clutched in his hands, knuckles white if he were to look. But he refuses to open his eyes. He doesn't want to see. He just holds on for dear life, through whatever is happening around them, squeezes his eyes shut against the raging storm. He feels a tear escaping the corner of his eye and lets it.

And then it all goes still.

~oOo~

"Dean?"

When Dean dares to open his eyes, the first thing that greets him is an all-encompassing silence. The first glance tells him that they are indeed still in the dungeon of the bunker. His first instinct is to turn around and see, make sure that the hole in the wall is gone, the powers threatening their lives along with it, but he can't rip his eyes away from the angel's face, the angel that is still there, warm and alive and real under his hands that haven't stopped clutching at the trenchcoat. There are also hands on him, he realises as the mist in his head begins to clear, hands on his back. Cas must have drawn him in when the Empty raged around them and he didn't even notice. Not then. Not with the Empty, the Empty...

He notices them now, and instantly retreats, fingers suddenly loosening their hold on the beige fabric as if it had burned him, taking a step back, away. Is it a conscious movement? He can't say. It's just what he does.

There's a flicker in Cas' eyes as Dean slips out of his reach. Hurt, Dean thinks for a split second, but it's gone so quickly, he can't be sure. He's never been sure about anything concerning Cas and feelings, Cas's feelings, his own. He should be sure now, shouldn't he. He should, with those words still reverberating in the air around them, echoing in his ears. If Dean could only understand them, he wished... But he's picking them apart in his mind, unwrapping each impossible word, tries to arrange them in a way that makes sense to him, fails miserably.

"Dean, what happened?" The deep voice that's already haunting him from inside his head rips Dean from his trance. "Dean, what did you do?" There's confusion in his voice, and a hint of something graver, something...

"What? Nothing!", he says more defensively than he should. "I didn't do anything. You're the angel, I thought-"

He doesn't know what happened. He doesn't know what he intended, he doesn't know if he intended anything at all. He doesn't know what it all means. All he knows is that there was a piece of him that couldn't let go of Cas. (Not like this. Not now. Not ever.) So he didn't.

"No. It wasn't me." Cas shakes his head, wrinkling his brow the way he does when he tries really hard to grasp something that escapes his understanding. "I- I was ready for it to take me", he says, and the truthfulness of it makes his way into Dean's heart like a splinter. "It should've- Why didn't it take me? I don't understand." The angel looks around the room as if he were expecting to find the answer written on the wall next to the many sigils that hadn't protected them, or maybe even expecting to find the Empty still lurking in a corner. But there's nothing. They're alone, alone together, and the silence is pressing but not deafening, not drowning (not how it would be there...)

"Maybe you weren't truly happy after all", it tumbles from Dean's lips. He instantly intends to cast his eyes down because that's what he does when he feels...like this.

Except he can't. Because Castiel's gaze shoots back to him at that, growing impossibly soft in front of Dean's eyes. Cas' eyes are always soft, at least most of the time, have this peaceful quality to them and even more so when he looks at Sam or Jack, someone he (Dean swallows) loves. But not like this. This- this is just for Dean. He feels like an idiot for not seeing it sooner, and he probably is.

"Dean." He has to close his eyes, can't help it, not with all the warmth seeping from that one word, his name in an angel's mouth, this angel's mouth.

"No, Dean." Dean knows there will be a slight smile greeting him when he opens his eyes again, has learned to hear it in the tone of Cas' voice. (There's no need for anyone to know that he's been looking for this particular sound, has made it his personal task to entice it as often as possible.) And yes, there it is, curling the corner of Cas' lips, reaching his eyes that still shine with previous tears and a compassion that borders dangerously on pity. It's the sad, understanding kind of pity, the kind that says 'I'm sorry you still don't know, but it's fine, I get it', and Dean feels like he can't breathe. "I don't know why it didn't take me", Cas says gently, confidently, "But I know that's not why."

He swallows, because what is he gonna say to that? To that smile and those eyes that make him feel like his innards have turned inside-out?

"You intended for it to take us both, didn't you", Cas continues mercilessly, and Dean still doesn't answer, because where's the point in lying? They both know it's true, anyway.

"You didn't leave me a choice." And there's his voice. Awesome. How kind of it to finally make an appearance.

"I did. You could just have let it take me."

"I couldn't."

Cas sighes, tilts his head to the side as he does.

"Dean..."

"I couldn't, Cas. End of discussion."

He waits for the reasonable reply that's undoubtedly about to come, waits as Cas looks at him, just looks at him, examines him, head still tilted that way, eyes squinted, lips slightly parted...and Dean knows he's staring back, doesn't care, it's what they do anyway, it's what they've always done, and Cas' lips- his lips...

And then Dean's phone rings. Sam's always had fucking impeccable timing.

He picks up without breaking the gaze. The voice of his brother is hurried and laced with worry when he says his name, and Dean can't help but miss the way it had sounded from Cas' lips only moments before. But those moments are over, the spell is broken. Sammy is talking and reality rushes in.

He looks away. They don't have time for this. God is waiting. 

 

Chapter Text

We live our lives having these fictitious ideas of what we think other people will accept. Our parents function as ideals to an unknowing and malleable youth, naive and begging to be influenced. When people approve of something, we watch, learn and try to copy that behaviour, that personality, even. When they respect us, when we're given their validation, we feel secure. We end up barricaded behind masks, honing our act. But if we're not careful over time, that person down underneath the social training becomes unrecognizable, lost. Our act becomes the truth. And the truth becomes some residual of the person we were before we learned how to fit in, how to disappear in the mass, how to please everyone but ourselves.

The sad result is standing in front of the mirror of one of the bunker's bathrooms, staring at his own reflection, not recognizing the man that stares back at him. He isn't himself, he isn't what his father wanted, he's someone in-between. And he'd lived as that person (whoever he was) for so long that he couldn't even recall what it felt like to truly know yourself.

And what for? What was the purpose of all that masquerading, all that trying to be someone you're not, just to find out that all your efforts have been for fucking nothing because your undertaking had been doomed to failure all along?

Why tell all those lies? Why all those years of feeling unworthy? Like there isn't solid ground for you to stand. Shouldn't he have known that it would all end in a pile of burning crap? After all, a stack of lies is never a firm foundation. You can't build a castle on a mountain made of sand.

Dean presses the heels of his palms against his temples and listens to the water splashing in the sink. It's the middle of the night, and he's had one of those dreams again.

It would be weird, he decides. Kissing Cas. Not that he thinks a lot about kissing Cas in the first place. Or dreams about it. Whatever. Why would he. He doesn't think about kissing Cas at all, okay? And if he did, like...hypothetically (hypothetical thinking, not actual thinking about hypothetical kissing, that is) it would definitely be weird, and not the best thing he can imagine, not the only thing he's ever wanted, because why should it be something he wants if it's not even something he thinks about??

Yep. It'd be weird, he tells himself, you know, like a liar. (Unfortunately, saying a lie over and over doesn't make it true.)

Because this is Cas. This is Cas, his best friend Cas, who just so happens to be an angel of the Lord and who he with all certainty did not want to kiss, like, at all.

Oh fuck it, no more pretty lies. He's just kidding himself, anyway. He's far from unaware of his feelings for Cas. He just knows there's no point. They're inappropriate, they're impossible, they're fucking intense and they're terrifying the shit out of him. So better not acknowledge them, better shove them down soooooo far that he won't even manage to dig them up again himself. The only times he allows them a second to breathe is through outbursts of rage.

A stroke of genius, really. No one would ever be able to tell what it really is, right? Yeah, definitely. Rage is as far from love as anything, right?? Rage is something he's good at. Rage is something he knows how to do. Every time something happens to Cas. Every time he's injured. Every time he dies.

Like this time. It had been so close, so close...

Sam had almost lost Cas, too. Sam had almost lost a loved one, too. 
You're nothing special, Dean.

Cas is family. Of course he loves Cas.

Right?

Right.

Only... No.

It isn't that. Or well, yeah, it is. But it isn't just that, and Dean knows it. He'd known some time now, several years, to be honest. But he couldn't just go out there and say it, could he? What a ridiculous thought. Obviously, that's bullshit. Dean Winchester doesn't just go and blurt out that he's maybe a tiny bit head over fucking heels in love with his best friend who totally randomly happens to be a fucking angel of the motherfucking lord.

Nope. No fucking way.

The better strategy was of course to deny those feeling even existed, swallow everything down as far as possible and hope that it would be far enough to never see the light of day again.

Good strategy. Valid. Obviously. Very healthy, too.

Jep, denial. The liberation of the emotionally suppressed. And Dean is their leader. Could've been called deanial, honestly.

So he did what Dean Winchester did, locked his heart away in an iron chest, placed in a devil's trap, surrounded by a circle of salt and threw away the key in a deep well full of holy water (all metaphorical, of course). Just so his inner demons wouldn't manage to claw it out again somehow.

Demons. Oh, Dean is familiar with those. And not just the ones that are actual piles of black smoke and crap. Nope. We're talking about those that can't simply be exorcised, those personal ones that are so woven into a human's being that it's damn near impossible to tell them apart from the rest of your mind. They're constant companions to Dean, old friends, even. They're too familiar to still be enemies. You couldn't go through a life like theirs without learning to let go.

Not that he's good at that. Hell no. Why master the task of forgiving yourself when you can go around accumulating guilt and regret like trophies, right? But he's gotten used to them. They don't torture him anymore at night, not frequently anyway, have long stopped to be constant residents in the back of his head. Nothing he's done or said is one of his biggest regrets. Nono. That's crap for people with normal small apple-pie lives and normal small apple-pie problems. Dean though, Dean's long figured out that nothing haunted as much as the things we didn't say, didn't do.

Sometimes, countless time before all this, he'd almost been sure he'd tell Cas.

Yeah. He'd do it. Probably. (Read in Dean-vocabulary: maybe, which meant I don't fucking know, which meant the hell I will.)

Those are the evenings he drinks even more than usually and the beginning symptoms of a pleasant warm drunkenness make his thoughts reckless. Just one more glass, they dare to tell him then, just one more and you'll have enough fake bravery together to get the words out. So one glass becomes two, two becomes five and five become a number his numb head can't identify anymore. The liquid courage he'd intended to gather doesn't hold what it promised, and he finds himself in bed with gloom thoughts besieging him from all sides instead of the confident determination he'd relied on. Maybe he has a nasty case of liquid anxiety or some shit. 
The next morning, Dean wakes up with a terrible hangover and a secret still locked away in the depths of his heart and mind, and the absolute sober certainty that he'll never say the things he wants to say to Cas. He knows the damage it would do. And he loves Cas more than he hates his loneliness and pain.

But now? Now?

Dean has never had reason to believe (let alone hope) that admitting his feelings to Cas would result in anything but the inescapable ruin of their friendship. A friendship he values above all others, a friendship he needs, a friendship he depends on, a friendship he isn't willing to risk.

Cas is his best friend. His best friend. He doesn't say it out loud much. He says it to himself a lot.

But Dean has never been the one to dwell on dreams. Deams aren't something you got to have, not in a life like theirs. And Cas...this thing with Cas, it's been a dream. A dream Dean's tried to banish along with all the other impossible fantasies and illusions. He's never been able to admit to himself that it doesn't work. Not with this one thing.
And now, now that there are Cas' words echoing in his head every night, in every blasted minute of the day, how is it supposed to work now?

Yes, Dean tells himself he doesn't believe in dreams. But this one seems to call out to him, demanding to be chased. Chased until he's out of breath. And then to keep running some more.

Maybe he knows who you really are, that fucking cheat aka his own heart dares to whisper to him at night. Not your fake self-confidence or your even faker indifference towards everything and everyone - but the secret you. The person you don't want anyone to see, much less acknowledge yourself, a man who is fucked up. And he loves you anyway. Isn't that true love? Someone who kisses your bruises the same way he kisses your lips, who's on your side not when it's easy but when it's damn near impossible, when you yourself don't think you deserve it?

He just feels so fucking empty sometimes and it's so exhausting to feel nothing and everything at the same time. He isn't sure what's worse, the days when he feels everything at once or those when he feels nothing at all. Was it better drowning beneath the waves or die from thirst?

He's at war with himself.

His sleep is restless, haunted by words that sound wrong spoken to him but warm his very bone, lips that should feel wrong pressed against his but don't, hands that were made to perform miracles yet disgrace themselves with touching his damnable human skin.

"Tell me again", his dream-self pleads and the voice that answers is deep and warm and sends a shiver of pleasure down his spine. "You're the most caring human being I've ever known", it says. "You changed me. You're selfless. You're good. You're loving", it lies. "I love you."

When he wakes up his neck is stiff and his heart aching.

He doesn't want Cas like that. He shouldn't want Cas like that. He can't want Cas like that. And not only because Cas is a man. Or. Multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent in a male body. Whatever. Although John Winchester's voice did have something to say about that in his ears. The biggest problem though is that he isn't a man. He isn't a human. He's a fucking angel. And though most angels are douchebags - They. Are. Fucking. Angels.

Angels are watching over you, he can still hear his mum whisper to him when she kissed him goodnight all those years ago, when the world had still been whole, when he had still been a child, when he'd still felt safe and loved.

He hadn't believed her. He hadn't even believed angels existed. Or God, for that matter. They'd both been wrong. It isn't angels, exactly. Just the one. The one that actually deserves to be called an angel at all, the one that holds all the beautiful things one's told about his kind and their goodness.

And who's Dean? He's no one. An atom in the sea of nothingness.

He's not ashamed of Cas. Cas is...Cas is Cas. How could he ever be ashamed of Cas?

Himself, though? That's a different matter.

He can't feel things. He can't feel these things, not for Cas. Cas is family. Cas is his best friend. Cas has already given too much for them, for him. Cas has allowed Dean to take too much. He shouldn't ask for more. He can't. He shouldn't even wish for more, dammit. He knows what he's like, he knows what he does to people. Everyone he loves (not that he'd ever use that word), everyone who even gets close to him gets hurt or fucked up. Or worse. Dead. Cas has died already. It's only a question of time before it happens again. Dean can't risk it happening sooner, not because of him. He can't do that to Cas. He won't.

And it's already too late. He knows he's already hurt Cas, so many times he lost count. It's already too late to ever repay the debt he's in. The only thing he can do is see to it that the list doesn't get any longer.

He feels like he should probably ask Cas to leave.

But he doesn't want him to go. He wants him to stay, although he knows he shouldn't. Cas shouldn't stay. And Dean shouldn't ask him to. He should let him go.

But the thing is, he can't do that, either. He's too selfish. Too selfish to tell him to leave. Too selfish to ask him to stay (too selfish to tell him why he wants him to stay). Too selfish to lose him, one way or the other.

Because Dean plants roots so deeply in people he loves that he always loses a part of himself when they leave. And they always leave. It's become sort of a pattern, people leaving him. And he's angry. He tries to be angry with them, but never seems able to keep that up long enough. He loves them even after they left, how can he be angry with them? But the anger has to go somewhere, so he's angry with himself instead. They must have had a reason to leave, didn't they? There must be a reason why it's always him who's left behind.

Why am I never good enough?

Perhaps there's a small part of him, far in the back of his mind, some tiny bit of self-esteem that unconsciously knows the real reason he gets so mad is that he sees the injustice of it all. Only, he doesn't really have access to that part anymore. It's buried under too many layers of pain, sorrow and bitterness. 

Truth is, Dean has a tendency to always choose the version of the story where he's at fault. Makes it easier to maintain the mask he's learned to keep in place over the years. Easier to punish himself than the universe he has to keep living in either way.

As long as he's the problem, he can handle it. As long as he's the problem, he can keep himself in the illusion that no one he loves gets hurt when he just stays far enough away from them. 

As long as he's the problem, he'll never be good enough for Cas. As long as he's the problem, telling Cas isn't even an option.

As long as he's the problem, he's safe.

And so is Cas.

Chapter Text

Why do you care so much?  he'd been asked once.

Because someone has to, he'd said. And believed it himself.

Because that's who you are, Cas had told him. And believed it, too.

Dean doesn't know what to believe anymore.

He didn't really know he could feel this.

This...L-word thingy. And not just like...yeah. But like...yeah. Like the real, actual thing. Y'know. 

Sure, he knows he cares about people. He loved his mum, he loves Sam, he'd loved his dad, even though that love's wrapped up in something dark he doesn't want to look at too closely. Fact is, he'd die for his family without hesitating a second, God, he already has died for them, more than once. And his family doesn't end in blood. He cares about Jodie and the girls, he cares about Donna, Bobby, Jack. Even Rowena. (Yes. Okay, fine, he could admit it here in the secrecy of his mind. Even Crowley. He's never gonna know that if Dean has anything to say about it, but yeah, even that little demonic prick has almost been like something resembling family. A very distant and creepy cousin, maybe.)

But that's all...well, family. That's an important sort of love, no question, but it's all the same. All deep and good and...platonic

Even Lisa and Ben. He'd cared about them, too, being the closest he'd ever gotten to having a relationship that wasn't just family, but family of his own. But it hadn't felt like he imagines it's supposed to. He'd felt guilty, back then, sure that he was somehow unable to give them something they would have deserved, but...no matter how hard he tried, it just wasn't there. It felt almost like a job at times, like he did it because it was the right thing to do. He'd tried to want it, he'd wanted to want it, but there was always something slightly off.

With them, his head had told him loving them was right, but his heart hadn't been on board.

Now, with Cas, everything in his head tells him he shouldn't, but it feels right.

Dean has lived his life with one-night stand after one-night stand, never long enough in one place to even think about a real relationship apart from the empty, vague impression of one with Lisa. But that has never been what he wants. He knows he's been lying to himself there. (There's only so much one can do in that department, as much as Dean has risen the art of self-deception to a level previously unknown to mankind.) He's tried to convince himself that this is the way he likes things to be, but the truth is that's just easier than admitting that the thing he truly craves is something he's just not cut out for. Because what he wants...what he wants is one person to love and spend his time with.

And far back in the most hidden and secret corner of his twisted mind, locked in the darkness even he doesn't dare step into, he also knows he wants that person to be Cas. And he wants Cas to want him back, him and only him...

Oh, hell yeah, he wants that. The ease behind it. Closeness in all its beautiful familiarity. A casual kiss in the morning. And in the evening. And any other random time of day. Kissing someone just because he feels like it. (Well, not someone. But I'm sure you got the hang of it by now.) Running a hand through that dark hair. Stare into those blue eyes (not that he wasn't already doing that anyway, but...you know. Intentional). Taking his hand while they walk. Touching thighs under the table. A kiss on the cheek for no other reason but that they could. Giving and receiving affection without a second thought, without it being a big deal.

But not possible, not possible, don't go there, you won't like what you're gonna find, Dean, it's nothing you get to have and you know it, not with anyone and certainly not with him...

Not all of us get the life we want. But that doesn't mean that we don't want it.

Just because he couldn't show his feelings, didn't mean he doesn't have any.

Life's a bitch. And then you die. 

Or in their case: Life's a bitch, then you die, and come back so life can be a bitch again.

~oOo~

Maybe he should go for a drive. Clear his head. Yeah. Might do him some good. And it's not as if he'd had anything better to do, anyway. They didn't have a single case in weeks since the Chuck thing went down.

Sammy calls it a deserved break.

Dean calls it bullshit.

He opens the door and looks both ways down the corridor before stepping out of his room. Great. So that's what his life's come down to now. Spying around corners like a frickin thief in the night. In his own home. And all to avoid the one person (well, being) he longed to see more than any other. Yeah. Sounds legit.

"Hey, where you going?"

Sam is sitting at the table in the library, nose stuck in a bock. So much to taking a break.

"Just thought I'd take Baby out for a drive", Dean tells him as he makes his way around the table. "Has been some time since we hit the road. Y'know, don't want her to feel neglected." He leans forward, hands placed on the map showing the U.S. "Whatcha reading? Found a case?"

"Ah, no." Sam sounds too cheerful, apparently actually enjoying the fact that they had nothing to do. Enjoying his deserved break. Urgh. "That's just some light literature."

"That?" Dean nods towards the heavy, leather-bound tome, a monstrosity of paper about...oh great. Of course. Angels. What fucking else? Apparently, Dean's nerves are the only ones that would've liked (and actually deserved) a break but didn't get one. "That? Is light?" (Oh, did he mention the book's in Enochian?)

"Some people actually enjoy reading, Dean."

"Yeah, so I've heard...", Dean mutters under his breath, watching as Sam rolls his eyes in exasperation, but chooses to ignore his brother's comment. It's not as if it'd do any good, anyway.

"Hey, while you're out...do you mind getting dinner?", he asks instead, turning a page that's larger than his face.

"Sure." Dean stops on his way to the staircase, pointing a finger back at Sam. "But I'm not gonna buy any of that rabbit food. That's humiliating." He can hear Sam's sigh through the whole expanse of the room and grins.

"It's called salad, Dean."

"It's fucking leaves, Sam."

His brother waves at him dismissively, eyes fixed on the text again.

"Yeah, whatever, jerk."

"Bitch", Dean calls down the stairs before the door closes.

~oOo~

The road is his friend and slipping into the Impala's driver seat feels like coming home. At least that's what it had been like, in the past. (But he has a different home now, a home not made of a place, but people, brothers and friends and angels and- sonofabitch stop thinking about him!) He still loves it, the familiarity of it, the scent of leather and the sound of the engine that make his worries melt away for a while. But not today.

Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man, though my mind could think I still was a mad man, it sounds from the radio. Wow. Baby really doesn't have to call him out like that, does she? 

Masquerading as a man with a reason, my charade is the event of the season- okay, that's it.

He shuts the radio off.

Unfortunately, that means the volume of his thoughts gets turned up instead. Awesome. The Impala drives at 90 mph, his brain is working with at least 120.

Why can't you just let him love you the way you are, it hisses, the treacherous bastard, as flawed as you might be, as scarred and unworthy as you think yourself to be?

To believe he must hide all the broken parts, out of fear that someone else is incapable of loving what is less than perfect, out of shame because Cas deserves nothing less than perfection...

That's like believing that sunlight is incapable of entering a broken window and illuminate a dark room, a voice whispers to him, one that sounds suspiciously deep and familiar. And damn, that does sound like something he would say, doesn't it. All deep and flowery and too true for anyone's good. Why the heck can his brain come up with this shit the way it would come from Cas' mouth? That's such a dick move. His heart is playing with his mind, trying to convince him by using his biggest weakness against him.

Maybe his heart simply knew the things his mind couldn't explain. But he can't risk it. He can't.

Don't get too close. It's dark inside. Hiding the truth is the best thing he could do. The best thing for both of them. He's just protecting Cas that way, sheltering him from finding something that he couldn't unsee.

He'd rather long for Cas and keep his friendship than risk everything by trying to claim something he knew he could never have. But that's what Cas had said, isn't it.

The one thing I want, it's something I know I can't have...

What if he meant it after all? As long as there's just the tiniest chance that Cas actually meant all that stuff he said...how is Dean supposed to live with the regret of never asking?

Urgh, this drive isn't working. Clear your head, my ass.

He blindly grabs one of the tapes and roughly shoves it into the player.

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold...

Zepp. Hell yeah.

Oh. Stairway to Heaven. Fuck no.

It's one of the songs on Cas' mixtape, because of fucking course it is.

There's a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure. 'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings...

Yeah, exactly. Meanings. Of course he, damn moron that he is, had to put that on the mixtape. The mixtape (read: the fucking love confession in disguise) that he was only able to get himself to give to Cas because he'd been sure Cas wouldn't know what it is, what it means.

He's been sure Cas doesn't feel the same way, can't feel love like that, being an angel and everything. And even if he could, there's just no chance in hell (or on earth, or in heaven, or wherever) Dean would be the object of such a feeling. Otherwise he would never have had the courage to give him that damn tape, not if he hadn't been absolutely certain Cas wouldn't see the significance of it. That certainty enabled Dean to perform that gesture that was far too huge for his own liking in the soothing knowledge that there wouldn't be any repercussions.

And now Cas said all those things to him and his whole world turned upside down. Cas is still an angel. Cas is still Cas. Just Dean isn't sure anymore what that means.

I love you, Cas had said.

I. Love. You.

Damn.

But what does that fucking mean? Love isn't just...love. There are so many kinds, so many different flavours.

Seems like Dean is left with an impossible task: How to tell if he loves you after he said I love you.

He's subconsciously making a list in his head. Reasons to love him, by Dean The Coward Winchester. Like a frickin teenage girl with a school crush.

Reasons not to:
1. He wasn't raised to love...like this. (Does he mean men? Or does he just mean healthy, tender relationships?) His hands aren't made for gentle touches. He can't even remember the last time he'd held something good and beautiful and not destroyed it. He can't let Cas be the next thing to shatter under his fingers
2. When he's around, Dean feels like there's not a single useful thought in his head, not a muscle that still obeys his command. All that power Cas has over him. It's dangerous. (Too dangerous?) 
3. Cas is too quick in forgiving and Dean too quick in needing forgiveness
4. He knows all about monsters. He knows what happens to people that are stupid enough to try and love them. He can't do that to Cas
5. He still isn't sure this isn't all a dream, anyway
6. When it goes all inevitably down, he'll be ruined. Ruined for others, addicted to a memory, unable to forget his name. He's not even sure it's not too late already
7. When (not if, when) something happens to Cas, it would kill him

Reasons to:
1. He feels right
2. Dean already is ruined for others
3. He'd asked. He'd said I love you
4. His (gorgeous, blue- oh goddammit) eyes said he isn't afraid
5. He has to

That's the end of it, then.

He has to. 

 

Chapter Text

Sam is so done.

He can't take any more.

It's always been physically painful to watch, not to speak of the patheticness of it all, but now, it's reached its peak. Because as much as they apparently try to avoid each other, Dean jumping whenever Cas enters a room and awkward silence - the eye-fucking doesn't stop.

It. Just. Never. Stops.

If Sam was able to watch them more than was absolutely unavoidable without throwing up, he'd probably have found it to be worse than ever. They're not staring at each other anymore, but there is a sheer unnumberable amount of stolen glances when they think the other isn't looking, minutes of fixed stares on turned backs, longing looks when one of them leaves the room. Like- what the hell? Why pretend not to want to be in the same room in the first place and then throw such sickeningly yearning glances after each other?? And why make Sam watch it all?? 

If he wasn't so sure that talking to Dean about it would result in nothing but him denying it violently or freak out on him, he'd try. Maybe he will, anyway.

There's only so much pining a grown man can take from his brother and best friend, okay?

And the amount going on at the dinner table right now definitely goes beyond the borders of acceptable. They're having burgers, because of course they are, Dean was the one grocery shopping, after all. Or well, Dean has burgers. Sam has what he could track down between Dean's ingredients that looked like it maybe won't make him die of a cholesterol overdose, at least not right away, and Cas is just sitting there because Sam insisted on it.

He regrets it now. Perhaps he should just have let the angel go back to his room as he suggested (after pointing out that he didn't eat anyway - as if they didn't already know that). But no, of course he had persuaded him to stay, for some family time, because they were all so much in their rooms anyway, and could at least spend dinner together.

Good idea, right?

Hahaha, no. Bad idea. Bad bad idea.

Ever tried to keep a conversation flowing with two people that very obviously don't want to talk to one another? Yeah? Okay. And now imagine the effort multiplied by the embarrassment of knowing that they don't talk because they're secretly pining. And knowing that one of these people is your brother. And knowing that the other is your best friend. And knowing that you're the only one who knows because everyone but you is a total fucking idiot.

Yep. This is Sam's life right now.

Awesome.

He really should've called Eileen. Why didn't he think of calling Eileen?

Would be really nice to get an answer that went beyond Cas' awkward oneliners (at least he was trying) and Dean's unintelligible grunts.

He swears if he has to watch Dean fake-ignore Cas for one more minute, he's gonna-

His thoughts are interrupted by the familiar rustling of wings in the air. They haven't heard this sound for a while. Not since the day Chuck-

"Jack", he breathes in relief, grasping at the nephilim's arrival like a lifeline to keep him from drowning in the thick atmosphere of idiocy those two are creating. Thank God for their son's impeccable timing. "Thank Go-uh." He breaks off, huffing as he remembers who's actually God now. "Thanks...I mean- It's nice to see you."

"Thank you, Sam." Jack smiles that adorable dorky smile of his as he stands in the doorway and Sam can't help the smile forming on his own lips at how unchanged the kid looks. Good for him. "I hope it's not inconvenient that I come uninvited?"

Jack furrows his brow and gestures towards the unfinished meal on the table, but Sam will be damned if he lets that opportunity for a proper distraction slip through his fingers. And not only that. He also genuinely missed the boy. Jack had said he would eventually come by from time to time, but they hadn't known when that would be. Must be pretty time consuming to be God. But now he's here and he couldn't have picked a less inconvenient time, as far as Sam is concerned.

"Don't be silly, Jack, you're family", he waves off, patting the chair next to him with his flat hand. "You're always welcome. Come on. Sit."

~oOo~

Dean watches as Jack's eyes brighten immediately and he follows the invitation, flopping down at the table like the child he actually is, underneath all that. Man, Dean hopes he'll still get to be that child. He's only 3 for fuck's sake! Yeah, he's like..upgraded with God-juice now or something, and with great power comes great responsibility (just shut up), but he's still the same kid he was before, their kid, and Dean's gonna make sure that at least one of them gets a proper childhood.

"How's it goin', kid?" Dean grins across the table, taking another bite.

(Oh look, Sam thinks. It talks.)

"I've been very busy, actually", Jack says, drawing Cas' full plate towards him as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Dean had made him a burger too, just for the sake of it, really. Made him feel like less of an asshole.) "Reconstructing Heaven. But I'm almost done now."

"I'm sure it's going to be wonderful, Jack." Dean's heart aches at the sound of Cas' voice. He missed that. He missed the warmth in it. He misses it directed at him.

"I hope so. Chuck was not a very good God, was he?", Jack asks innocently, tilting his head to the side, and holy shit does he look like Cas. Has he always looked so much like Cas? What- "Heaven seemed a bit neglected to me."

Sam huffs. "Understatement."

"Well." Jack scrutinizes his burger (he's already eaten half, one could say that makes it his burger now, Cas doesn't mind, anyway) and puts on his thinking-face. (Damn. That looks like Cas, too.) Then he suddenly shrugs, the carfree smile returning to the boy's face as quickly as it left. "Even better that I'm there now", he declares joyfully and takes another bite.

Dean can't help but smile. Now that kid's got confidence. It's nice. He's almost forgotten what it feels like.

"They're happy to have you", he tells Jack truthfully. "You're doing a great job up there, kid."

He keeps his eyes fixed on Jack because he knows Cas is looking at him. He can feel it, the gaze burning into him. He stays still, pretends not to notice and doesn't dare turn, keeps smiling a smile that feels more forced with every second that passes. And then it's gone. Cas looks at Jack and the tension leaves Dean's shoulders as he releases the breath he's been holding.

"We're very proud of you."

We. Cas said we and Dean might feel like fainting if it wasn't so chick-flicky. He settles on feeling like throwing up instead. Yeah. Much more manly.

"Thank you, Cas." Jack's smile is wide, youthful and oblivious. "That means a lot to me."

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"See you soon, kid." 

Sam watches with a smile on his face how Dean says goodbye to Jack, a grin forming on his face at his brother's dumbfounded look when the boy suddenly hugs him without announcement. He can see the emotion travelling across Dean's face, surprise melting into something incredibly soft as he shortly lets his arms encircle Jack in return, affectionately patting him on his back. 

His eyes quickly flash over to Cas who stands a few feet away in the background, watching the scene with the emotion written clearly in every feature. There's obvious love there, undisguisedly shining from his eyes, slight amusement that curls the corner of his mouth and something heavier underneath, a sense of longing that Sam has gotten used to spotting on the angel's face. Not that it hadn't been there since he knew Cas. Or that Cas had ever been good in concealing it. Sam had simply needed some time and study to make out what it was and how it seems to be particularly connected to Dean. It's been years since he was sure he'd figured it out. Sadly that couldn't be said about his totally oblivious squirrel of a brother. Although Sam wouldn't rule out that Dean's ignorance is anything but innocent coincidence. 

He knows Dean. He knows how Dean deals with things. Monsters get killed. He himself gets sacrificed. Worlds get saved. Emotions get swallowed. Problems get ignored. Feelings get denied.

Yeah, he knows how Dean deals with things. Things like whatever the hell's going on between him and Cas (what has been going on between them for years, and especially what's going on right now). To sum it up: He just doesn't. 

Sam sighs to himself when he sees how Cas is quietly backing away, obviously trying to avoid any contact with Dean, who's just releasing Jack from their embrace. The angel had been the first to say goodbye to Jack (he'd gotten a hug too, and participated without restraint) and Sam wonders how much of the sad smile on Cas' lips is due to Jack leaving or Dean being here but in a way just as absent as the Nephilim. 

Dean gives Jack one more pat on the shoulder and turns to leave for his room, and Sam could swear to notice a shadow flitting across his brother's face when he sees that Cas is already gone. Those two. How long is this gonna last? Sam can't stand to watch them both obviously hurting and not even really knowing why. It makes him feel a sort of helplessness he doesn't want to get used to.

"Sam?"

"Mhm?" Jack's voice rips him out of his thoughts and his eyes find the boy's face just soon enough to see how Jack throws a glance back to the corridor Dean just vanished in, following the trail of Sam's own eyes. When he turns back to face Sam, Jack's brow is furrowed in what seems like a mixture of confusion and concern.

"Is everything alright?", he asks Sam hesitantly, "Between Dean and Cas?"

Another sigh escapes Sam's throat. Of course Jack had noticed. How could he not.

"You know, Jack...Dean and Cas, they..." He doesn't really know what to say. He doesn't want to worry the boy, and he has actually no idea how to describe what's going on, because he has no fucking clue himself. "They are going through a hard time right now", he says vaguely, because what else is there to say? "But they just...sorta...do that sometimes, y'know? They always come around eventually. Don't worry about it."

"Oh, I wasn't worried." Sam's eyebrows shoot up at that, but Jack just shrugs his shoulders. "I just noticed that something was different. I can't really describe it. It's just something about the energy of their bond, that's slightly-"

"Wait, wait wait." Sam holds out his hands, stopping Jack in his train of thoughts. "You...ah. You mean you know about their bond? You mean you...feel it?"

"Oh, yeah." Jack smiles at him, carefree and maybe a little bit proud. "Being half angel, I've always been more sensitive to the energies of the universe. But since I absorbed Chuck's power, it's like I can see them. Isn't that amazing?" 

As much as it comes as a surprise, Sam has to agree. It does sound pretty cool. 

"And I don't know. It's hard to describe, especially to someone who's never experienced it himself. Sorry", he adds with a crooked grin and Sam can't help but chuckle.

"So...it's basically like...I can feel it flowing around me, in everything, everyone. And in feeling it, I can envision them. The colour, the shape, the intensity. And sometimes, two things are connected. Like Dean and Cas. You're all connected, actually. But...the strings between you and Dean, or you and Cas, they're...different. They're strong, but..." Jack slightly shakes his head, trying to put into words what his own mind is still learning to grasp. "...different", he eventually finishes, looking up at Sam with a little shrug. "With Dean and Cas, it's like...their energies aren't just connected. They mingle when they're physically close, and the further they're apart, the more their energies seem to flow and pull in the other's direction. That's a very vague description of what I'm sensing, but...I can't describe it any better. It's like their energies attract each other."

He looks at Sam with a hopeful sparkle in his eyes, as if he were expecting Sam to tell him the meaning behind those incredible revelations, and even though his brain is working at warp speed right now to wrap around this overwhelming new information, Sam knows Jack's waiting for an answer. 

"Woah." He soothes a hand through his hair, strokes it back and out of his face, clears his throat to win time. "Yeah, Jack, I mean...That makes a lot of sense, actually", he says more to himself, ordering his thoughts. "When a claim is laid on a living soul, it leaves a mark, a brand", he repeats what the angel once told them about his and Dean's dubious more profound bond. "The handprint, the visible mark, is gone because Cas healed it, but when Cas saved Dean from hell, they forged a connection that goes deeper than the usual bond between humans. Or any beings, I suppose."

Sam highly suspects it also has to do with the two of them obviously being in love with each other, but he'll beware of saying so in front of Jack. First of all, the boy has no social filter, and he won't hear Dean's tirade about why the fuck he'd say such a thing to anyone, let alone their son, who also happens to kinda be God. And secondly, he doesn't really feel like explaining this absurd relationship two of his fathers are having to an actual three-year-old that needs angelic superpowers to compensate a total lack of social skill. (Not that Sam could blame him for that. Two-thirds of his parents weren't the best examples in that area, to put it mildly.)

"Yes." Jack tilts his head to the side, just like Cas does. (So much to living after example.) "What I don't understand is why it changed recently." 

Sam's head snaps up. 

"Wait, what?" 

"It changed", Jack repeats lightheartedly, unsuspecting of the turmoil he just awoke in Sam's gut. "That's what I was trying to tell you. I was concerned if something happened because I could feel that there was a...a switch. In the universe. And a powerful one at that. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, because it was before we defeated Chuck. But today, when I arrived here and was so close to its source, it was clear that it had come from Dean and Cas."

"And you're sure?"

Jack nods confidently.

"Absolutely."

"When?", Sam inquires, eager to find out as much as possible. His thoughts are racing. What if this has to do with...whatever the fuck is going on. It has to, doesn't it? Accidents don't just happen accidentally, after all. And a change in their...energies or whatever, immediately followed by a change in behaviour? Sam's been around too much supernatural shit to believe there's not a connection there. "When did it happen, that...switch?"

"Oh, it was the day Billie died."

There. There it is. That's proof enough. He knew something happened that day, he fucking knew it! 

"Jack." The seriousness in his tone seems to startle the boy, who wrinkles his brow again. Sam places a hand on his shoulder, hoping the gesture will be soothing. "Listen. I can't tell you why right now, but...this might be really important, okay?" 

Jack looks confused, but nods slowly. 

"Is there anything you can tell me about how their bond changed? Anything at all? I know you say it's hard to describe but...did you sense..." He searches for words, which is hard when you try to comprehend something that not even the one experiencing it can grasp. "You talked about colours, right? Maybe it changed colour? Did it become weaker? Or-"

"No", Jack breaks him off, shaking his head as if more to himself. "Actually, I think it became stronger."

"Stronger." Jack nods again. 

Wuh. Okay. Well, Sam wasn't expecting that. Didn't really fit with the way Dean and Cas had tortured him over the last weeks with their awkwardness, did it. Dammit.

"You sure?" He knows he's repeating himself, but he has to get this absolutely straight (pun intended). 

"Yeah." Jack scrutinizes him, apparently trying to figure out why Sam is so strangely invested in this. Better cut this quick before he has to answer questions he doesn't really have an answer to.

"Okay." He tries to smile, but it feels more forced than carefree. Hopefully, social radar that the kid has, he won't think too much of it. 

"Thanks, Jack", he says, squeezing the boy's shoulder before pulling him into a hug. "Thanks."

Chapter Text

They say a problem shared is a problem halved.

Unfortunately, in his brother's case, Dean didn't seem to feel like sharing anything at all. To share a problem, you have to admit to yourself that a problem exists.

"I swear", Sam sighs, driving a hand over his face in exasperation. "One minute he's looking at him so adoringly it's gross and the next he acts like a total dick."

Eileen gives him a compassionate smile, but even the screen can't hide the amused twinkle in her eyes. He had called her first thing after Jack left for Heaven, needing someone to talk through what the boy had told him, needing someone he knew would ground him.

"That's called being in love, Sam", she says, simultaneously gesturing her words in sign language in front of her laptop camera. Sam had asked her to. He's still learning and soon found that nothing works better than frequent repetition, especially having the visual paired with its acoustic counterpart. By now he'd gotten quite fluent in the basics, if he could say so himself. It's incredibly fascinating, and he knows it makes her happy that he tries, and isn't that alone worth every hour of practice. Getting to share what he's come to think of as Eileen's language...

He just wishes it'd be that easy to find the perfect means of communication for everyone. (And with everyone he means Dean and Cas. Obviously.)

"But why does it have to be so complicated?" He shifts on his bed, sitting cross-legged with the computer in his lap, and strokes a lost strand of hair behind his ear. "And after what Jack said-"

Eileen suddenly snorts, a fit of giggles breaking Sam off.

"What?", he asks, grinning despite having no idea what happened. He just loves hearing her laugh. He hears it far too rarely of late.

"Sorry, it's just..." She takes a deep breath, shakes her head with a smile. "You just asked me why love is so very ugly." She points at his hands and bites her bottom lip to hide the smirk (unnecessary to point out that it's a futile endeavour).

"Oh, shit." Sam lets out a bark of laughter, trying to remember what he'd just signed. "Wait." He crosses his hands under his nose and pulls them to the side in a swift movement. "Was it this?"

"Yeah. It's very close to the sign for 'complicated'", she grants him. "Actually the other way around. Here, I'll show you again." She starts with her hands out, then moves them in towards her face, crossing them while wiggling her index fingers.

"Like this?" Sam tries to imitate her movement, stores it away in his memory as good as he can.

Eileen nods with a smile. "Much better."

"Thanks." God, he misses her. He misses seeing her smile like that, seeing her smile because of him. He misses having her here, being able to talk in person, hug her when he feels like it, just...

He's ripped from his thoughts when he notices her change in expression, the loving smile and softness in her gaze stay, but there's something serious about the wrinkle in her brow now, the way she takes in a breath.

"Just talk to him, Sam", she says and the younger Winchester sighs again.

"He's not gonna listen."

"Then make him."

"Ha!" Sam huffs, his eyes drawn up in disbelief. "Have you met Dean?"

But Eileen just keeps smiling at him, calm and sure and beautiful, with just this little hint of mischievousness that had always drawn Sam in like nothing else.

"I believe in you", she says with a little smirk and he can't help but smile to himself as well.

I missed you, he signs before he can think better of it, a warm fuzziness taking over his insides when she silently gestures what he recognizes as miss you too.

"How much longer will you be away?"

"Not much. Couple days", she tells him confidently, as if reading his thoughts. Or perhaps, Sam likes to think, she actually wants to see him as badly as he wants to see her. They hadn't kissed again, after that first time, right before she left. They hadn't really talked about it either. There had never been time. There had been...moments. But never time. Or never the right time. Shit, he's not gonna end up in one of those unspoken sexual tension nets à la Dean, is he? Nohohoho.

Soon, he promises himself. Soon.

"You sure you don't need me?" The question has slipped before he'd known it lingered on his lips, but it doesn't really surprise him. The thought is nice, even though he knows the answer already. He can't leave his brother and Cas alone like this anyway. He doesn't actually want to, either. And still - the thought is nice.

I'd get to see you soonerAnd I'd get to avoid having to mediate between Dumb and Dumber...

"Yeah, I'm sure", Eileen waves off, as he expected. "It's a small nest. And it's not as if I haven't been hunting alone all my life. I'm sure what you're dealing with will bring up much more resistance", she jokes and Sam snorts. It had been a good idea to call her. It's always a good idea to call her.

"You'll be fine, Sam", Eileen assures him in that way of hers that gives Sam no choice but to believe her. "He'll be fine", she adds and he nods, grateful for how she knows exactly what he needs to hear.

"Thanks." He'd like to say more. He knows the signs. But not like this. Not the first time. He shoves the thought aside. "Call again tomorrow?"

Eileen gives him a thumbs up and smiles a smile Sam tries to engrave in his memory until the next evening. He smiles back because it's impossible not to.

"Be safe."

Miss you, he gestures again before waving and closing the laptop. Perhaps he'd soon get to see her in person again. Maybe then he'd actually get to say what he meant to.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"Hello, Dean."

Dean jumps at the sudden sound behind him, dropping the pan he had been only slightly obsessively scrubbing. Nope, he doesn't think too closely about if his shock was due to the unexpectedness, or the Cas-ness of the voice in his back. The pan lands with a splash in the sink, spitting dirty washing water all over his apron and forearms.

"Jesus, Cas!" Dean shakes his hands with a disgusted grunt, drops flying to the floor and on his socks. He doesn't turn around. "You can't just sneak up on a guy like that! Dammit! I thought we talked about this."

"My apologies."

He won't turn around, he won't turn around, he won't turn around.

"I didn't mean to unsettle you." Cas sounds so small and resigned, Dean can practically see the tired expression on his face, the way he hangs his head.

He sighs and turns around. Shit.

"You didn't unsettle me", Dean lies, trying to wipe his arms on the already soaked fabric of the apron with little to no result. "Just...don't do that, okay?"

"Okay." Cas stands in the kitchen like a little boy on his first day at a new school, shy and awkward and insecure. Dean has to remind himself that this is an actual angel right there in front of him. Cas shouldn't ever have to look like that. And not because of him. 

Oh, for fuck's sake, he hates this. He hates what they've come down to. 

Above all, he hates himself.

He knows this is his fault. He knows Cas is unhappy and it's his fault. He knows he won't make it better. He doesn't know what else to do. He doesn't know how else to behave, what to say without saying the wrong thing. He doesn't know what else to be.

He can feel Cas' eyes following his movements as he grabs a kitchen cloth from the nearest counter and rubs his forearms dry. The gaze is burning into his skin, making his head empty and his fingers clumsy. He fiddles with the knot of the apron behind his back, swearing under his breath when the strings escape his grip.

"Dean." Cas takes a cautious step towards him, reaching for him. "Wait, let me help you with-"

"It's fine", Dean's mouth snaps much more forcefully than intended, his body retreating from the angel's outstretched hand as if by reflex, pressing against the cupboard. 
"Just leave it, Cas." He can't let Cas touch him right now. He can't let Cas touch him, ever. Not when it's his very touch that corrupts and damages and destroys. "Just..."

The sentence hangs in the air between them, unfinished, yet heavy with implication.

"I- " Cas swallows visibly, startled blue eyes locked with Dean's, a deer in the headlights.

Dean can't stand it. He can't look away, either. 

After seconds, minutes, hours maybe, Cas blinks, the shock on his face giving way to a flash of hurt Dean nearly misses as fast as the angel rips his gaze away to study the floor tiles instead. 
"A-Alright." He takes a step back, away from Dean, away from this whole fucking mess. "I'm sorry. I won't bother you anymore."

There's a hardness in his tone that drives into Dean like a splinter, and suddenly the sight of Cas turning away, leaving him is the worst thing in the world, the last thing he wants. It's always been the last thing he wants. He just doesn't know how to say it. Maybe his body does, drawn forward, pulled by an invisible force out of his conscious control.

"No, Cas, wait, I didn't-", he starts, but the angel is gone, the trenchcoat vanished around the doorframe, hurried footsteps losing themselves in the distance. "Didn't mean it like that", he whispers to himself, swallowing around the huge lump in his throat. 

Well done, Winchester. And the prize for biggest douchebag goes to-

 "Urgh, fuck!" He punches a fist on the worktop, welcomes the stabbing pain shooting through his wrist and up his arm. It distracts him from the uncomfortable tightness in his chest. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!" 

Don't make me lose you, too.

Dean angrily drags at the strings behind his back again, finally gets that damn knot loose. He rips the apron off, screws it up into a ball and flings it onto the floor where it lands with a dull splashing sound next to the dinner table. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and leans with one hand against the worktop, drives the other over his face. 

He screwed up. Massively. Again. 

Awesome. Fucking. Awesome. 

The silence Cas left behind is too loud in his ears, mingles with the ticking of the clock and- wait. Oh. The stamping of quickly nearing footsteps. Dean feel his pulse quickening in anticipation and hope when he realises the steps are headed towards the kitchen. The apology is ready and waiting at the tip of his tongue when instead of the awaited trenchcoat, he's met with a tall figure covered in blue-green checked flannel instead.

"Okay, this has to stop", Sammy declares straight up, not bothering with any introduction. Dean sighs. The breath leaves his throat and takes the previous seconds of held-up hope with it. His gut feels empty. Damn his brother and his spot-on shitty timing.

"What?", Dean asks in exasperation, rubbing his eyes. He's so not in the mood for whatever lecture Sammy has prepared right now.

"This!" Sam gestures between his brother and the doorway. Dean can practically see Cas how he sits alone hiding in his room right now, a habit the both of them had taken up recently. It doesn't take a mind reader to figure out what Sam means. Seems like there'd been a secret audience to Dean's fit of doucheness. Amazing. Of all the topics Sam could have given him an essay-long speech about- Just...Fantastic. 

Dean groans, turning his back to Sam with both hands on the edge of the counter. He leans his head over the sink, closes his eyes to steel himself for whatever there is to come. 

"Dean, what's wrong, man?" Ha. Everything. 

"What do you mean?", he says, picking the pan back up to distract himself. "Nothing. Why would you ask that." He knows it sounds fake and hollow. He knows Sammy knows. But that's what they do, right? That's what he's supposed to say. I'm fine. I'm good. Everything's just fucking awesome. 

"Oh, I don't know."  Sammy comes to stand next to him, Dean can see how he leans his hip against the cupboard, arms crossed in front of his chest. "Maybe because I'm your brother and I know when something's off with you? Maybe because I'm worried?" Dean ignores the expectant pause, focuses on the movement of the sponge in his hand. He hears Sam's sigh and rubs harder.

"Maybe because your best friend nearly died recently and neither of you said as much as two words about what happened", he continues mercilessly, his voice soft, yet strained with held back frustration, "and instead you keep acting weird around each other? Well, weirder, anyway. You avoid each other, you barely talk, you leave the room. Dean, you just freaked out on Cas so bad the guy practically fled to his room."

Thanks, Sam. I almost hadn't noticed. His jaw is tight, hands working frantically. The pan's been clean a minute ago.

"Man, what's up with all the unnecessary staring and shit usually going on between you two?"

The pan's handle slips through Dean's fingers and he swear as it clashes onto the countertop, almost knocking over a bunch of beer bottles. He catches it in the last second, sets it down, turns around to face his brother for the first time since he entered the kitchen.

"The what??"

"Oh don't be like that." Sam gives him a scolding glance, but there's fondness underneath, visibly breaking through in the smile that hides in the corner of his mouth. "Come on, dude. It's not as if I could possibly have missed those creepy longing gazes and touching for no apparent reason...", he teases, the smile growing wider. 

Dean takes in a sharp breath, escaping Sam's soft eyes by turning again to dry off the poor pan he'd been penetrating. 

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Dean, it's ok." Fuck no, Dean can't take kindness and empathy and understanding right now. He deserves none of it. "I'm not judging. Honestly. I'm happy for you", Sam says and the truthfulness in his voice knocks the air out of Dean's lungs. "But don't pretend, man, not with me. I'm the one who's been with you two almost every day for the last ten years. I'm not stupid. Or blind", he adds jokingly, trying to lighten the atmosphere. "Or deaf. Or-"

He knows. Fuck me, he knows.

"Yeah, Sam. I got it."

"Good. Because, God, I'd never thought I'd say that but...there's something even worse than all that insane unresolved sexual tension", he says, ignoring Dean's glare, "and that's whatever the fuck is going on between you right now, dude." (He's not going to mention Jack. He knows it would just freak Dean out even more, and he has quite enough of that as it is.) "Something changed, Dean", he says instead, trying to sound as soothing as possible, "and I bet it has to do with the day Billie died. Look, man, I'm just trying to help here, okay? Don't you wanna tell me what's wrong?"

He wants. Oh fuck yeah, he wants to. He wants to talk all that crap off of his chest. And who to tell if not Sammy? But this is not a question of wanting. This is a question of being able to. And he can't. He can't.

"There's nothing wrong, Sammy", Dean says instead, pretends like he's used to.

"Dean-"

"It's all good, Sam. Just drop it."

"I just want to help, Dean-" 

I know. I know, Sammy. I'm sorry.

"Oh, really?", he snaps, hating himself for it. "Then fucking do as I say and leave it, Sam. It's nothing. You hear me?"

His brother looks at him for a moment, scrutinizes him, apparently contemplating if he should dig deeper or do as he's asked. Dean waits, shoulders tense, grinding his teeth. But then Sam lets out a breath and Dean knows he won. (Or lost. However you wanna look at it. But he's not gonna go down that road.)

"Okay, fine." Sam lifts his hands and lets them drop to his sides, resigning. "If you wanna keep up that aura of...whatever - please, do. You don't have to tell me." 

Dean waits, stares down at the water in the sink, watches the bubbles dissolve. His knuckles are white where he holds onto the edge of the counter. He waits, unsure what he's waiting for, whether it's for Sammy to say something else or to just go. He's not even sure what he wants him to do. And just when he thinks Sam is about to leave, he suddenly feels a hand on his shoulder and flinches, head snapping around of its own accord. Sammy meets his gaze, calm and pleading and seemingly unaffected by Dean's harsh tone and cold act.

"But please", he says so softly that Dean feels something rip inside of him, "talk to him. Whatever it is- You gotta work this out, Dean. For both your sakes...talk." 

I know you mean well, I know you're worried, I know you're right.

"I-" The words are stuck in his dry throat, have to be pressed out between clenched teeth. "I'm not sure what you're implying here, Sammy, but-"

He breaks off when Sam closes his eyes with a deep sigh, the hand that had been a warm, grounding weight falls from his shoulder, leaving it cold and empty like the void in Dean's chest. His brother shakes his head to himself, almost invisibly, but when he speaks again, there's a smile in his voice.

"Hey, you-" He drives a hand through his hair, strokes it back the way Dean knows he does to gather himself. "You don't need my approval, man, but know that you have it either way. I'm not implying or...assuming anything here, okay? I'm just saying that...whatever this is, you're not happy, Dean. And don't even try to deny it, I know you better than that." He sounds so calm and sure, Dean wouldn't have known what to say anyway. He's dumbstruck, staring, listens to impossible words he both fears and longs to hear. 

"We're finally free, Dean", Sam tells him, and yeah, maybe he needs to be told. "You're free to do whatever you want. You should allow yourself to be happy, y'know. You've earned it. Whatever that involves. That's all I'm sayin'."

He smiles at Dean, the smile that's both bright and awakward at the same time. It's the Winchester brother smile, the one that says 'Yeah, so anyway. No chick-flick moments, I know. But still...good talk. I guess', and Dean embarrassingly feels a treacherous stinging in the corners of his eyes when Sam pats his shoulder again and leaves.

He stands alone in the quiet kitchen and takes what feels like the first breath in several minutes, maybe days, maybe months, maybe years.

Maybe forever. 

Chapter Text

"Hey! Whatcha doin'?"

"Hello, Dean."

Fuck, he hadn't seen Cas sitting at the table with Sam before he entered the kitchen. Not that it made a difference. Not that Dean wouldn't have come in if he had seen him. Because he isn't avoiding Cas. Why would he be avoiding Cas? That would be lunatic. Not like he'd been bitching at the guy for no reason at all the last time he'd seen him or anything. Which, as it happened, had been in this exact room. Not that that bothers Dean. Obviously not. No need for this to be awkward, either. Or for him to feel guilty as fuck. Which he doesn't. 

Hehehe. Yeah, very convincing, Winchester. Well done, you. 

"Dean, come on in." Sam waves him towards the table and he purposefully steers towards the chair next to his brother, diagonally set from Cas, who he's still so not avoiding, just in case you missed it the first time. "I was just telling Cas that Eileen called. She's gonna be back home in a few days."

Oh yeah nice. Teasing material. That's actually perfect. Making someone else uncomfortable to cover up his own nerves? Genius. 

"Back home, huh?" He wiggles his eyebrows at Sam, putting on his best meaningful smirk. 

"B-Back...I meant..." Sam grins wryly. (Ha. It's working.) "Back here."

"Mhm." Dean grins back and to his great satisfaction, Sam rolls his eyes.

"That's great, Sam", Cas says from across the table, capturing Dean with that damn soft voice of his, the sincere empathy seeping from his words. And yep, that was it with his short moment of cocky smugness, then. Back to pathetic self-deceiving mess it is. 

Seriously. How's Cas doing that? Not fair, ok. 

He watches how Sam rubs his neck as he actually blushes, not that Dean can blame him right now but duuude. Blushing. Sam's fucking smitten, and Dean can't help but be happy for his little dork of a brother. It's been a long time since he'd seen him go flustered like that over a girl. It feels nice. It feels...normal. 

"Yeah." His brother smiles down at the tablecloth. "Yeah, it is."

"I'm sure you missed her." Cas is blunt as ever, but his tone is so kind and loving that you can't help but take his words for the display of affection that they are. Sam's eyes go wide for a second, but he smiles fondly at Cas and nods. It's just impossible not to when the angel is hitting you with...all that...Cas

"Yeah, I...I did", Sam admits truthfully. And fuck, those simple words do things to Dean. Decidedly uncool things he's not ready to get into now, or later, or ever. 

Fuckfuckfuck. Not good. Thiiiiiis is dangerous territory all of a sudden. 

Okay, subject change. Come on, Dean, get up with something like-

Cas. I miss you too. I'm an ass. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I- 

Nonono. What the actual fuck not like that. Hell...

"I'm so-..." He'd blurted the words out before he really knows what happened. So his mouth is not connected to his brain anymore. Great. I'm sorry, it repeats in his thoughts, over and over, demanding to be set free. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm-

"...I'm so gonna need coffee for this", is what he presses out with an uncomfortable wave of his hand, pushing up from his seat as fast as possible. 

Yeah. Smooth, Dean. Real smooth.

"Want some?" He turns around a bit too quickly to be casual, meaning to pose the question to the room, or even better, Sam, but ends up kinda obviously addressing Cas for some stupid reason that escapes his panicking brain. The angel appears to be just as surprised as he is himself, blue eyes going wide, mouth hanging slightly open, and Dean can't look at him like this.

Turning back around without waiting for an answer because that's totally not rude or a give-away or just plain creepy, he grabs the coffee filters from the cupboard, sighing internally. 

This is just getting better and better...

~oOo~

"Want some?"

Cas stares at Dean, taken aback by the sudden question. He can't even remember the last time Dean spoke to him deliberately with Sam in the room, an actual full sentence, an offer, no less. He opens his mouth, wipes the shock away that knotted his vocal cords together. 

"That would be nice", he says to Dean's back, and is Dean tensing up or is that just his imagination? "Thank you."

He doesn't really like coffee, he had during the time he had been human, and maybe it's the fond memory of it, but at least now it's one of the things where the molecules don't taste openly disgusting and more of a bearable toned-down version of 'meh'. And it's nice to have a cup in front of you when everybody else has, too. It gives him a sense of belonging. And it gives him something to do and concentrate on, something to stare at that isn't Dean.

Not that he'd reject anything Dean had plain out offered him, anyway. Not even when it's gross tasting food. 

It's still made by Dean, though. For him. Which is as good a substitute as any.

After all, Dean's love language are acts of service. 

Cas has figured that out a long time ago. And not only stupidities like sacrificing your own life for the ones you love, though his family has quite a tendency to do just that. It's just as much in the little things.

Like...to find a totally random and not at all to his current situation related example - making a cup of coffee.

Dean had introduced Cas to the world. And he had enjoyed watching the angel discover new things along the way. Making him watch Dean's favourite movie, convincing him that a good piece of fried bacon was far better than that soja-based whatever crap Sam was preparing, giving him the mixtape with Dean's favourite songs. The joy Cas (and later Jack) showed towards every new detail was mirrored in Dean's sparkling eyes, just as if he were to experience them through Cas' eyes for the first time again, too. Cas is aware that sharing those things with him, things Dean loves, is far more intimate than it might have appeared at first sight. And for him, for someone like Dean, someone who struggles so much to articulate emotions, especially affection... it's a way to speak to Cas without having to use words at all.

(Dean just hopes Cas could hear.
Spoiler alert. He does.)

And Cas...Cas enjoys seeing Dean enjoy himself. He eagerly awaits every new thing Dean is going to show him, engraves every bit of information to memory, absorbs every spark of happiness Dean would grant.

Cowboy hats are of no particular use in any situation Cas could come up with, but Dean seems to like his wild west memorabilia. Well. I'm yer huckleberry. Dean calling himself the "Meat-Man" is ridiculously (read: ridiculously endearing), and again -molecules taste gross- but Dean say this is his favourite pie. Cas isn't sure Dean's music is a good example to really get a full picture of human music culture, but it doesn't matter. It's Dean's music. It makes Dean smile. Sometimes he even sings along to a track they had already listened to a million times before in the Impala. Cas would gladly have sat through another million. And when Dean presented him with a mixtape once, he could feel how his vessel's heart sped up its pace. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he'd found it happening more and more often, in mostly Dean-related circumstances. (It also happens when he's afraid or angry, but this feels different. It isn't uncomfortable. More...warm and fluttery.)

He guessed that this is just what Dean feels like to him.

It's still the same. That feeling. The Dean feeling. Deep inside, Cas know that nothing has changed. And at the same time, everything has. Everything's wrong, ever since that day. There are less and less moments he can cling to, no matter how hard he tries. The smiles and stolen glances that kept him alive have stopped, the friendship that he views as his most precious possession feels cold and empty. And there's nothing he can do about it. 

It's his fault, after all.

"So anyway." Sam's voice rips him back to reality and he quickly lowers his eyes to his hands in his lap. He has no idea how long he's been staring at Dean while the hunter is busying himself in the kitchen, but if Sam clearing his throat has anything to say about it, it has been too long. "Eileen said she got a real good lead from talking to some of the locals", the younger Winchester brother continues, "There was this club where people kept going missing over months, the police had been looking into it but there were no hints, no bodies no nothin' and they dropped it."

Cas wants to listen. He really does.

"But she tracked one of the vamps down and used it as lead to the nest. Small one, maybe six, seven. Smart ones, though. Careful. They'd caged the victims, kept them alive to feed on them for a while and burned the bodies to leave no traces. Took them out all by herself."

"Yeah, we get it, Sammy." Dean's suddenly back at the table, pressing a cup in Cas' hand without further comment, not even looking at him. "Your girlfriend is awesome."

Sam sputters slightly into the cup he'd already lifted to his mouth to take a sip and Cas can't hold back the smile when he sees Dean biting his lip to suppress a smirk. 

"I-" Sam strokes a strand of hair behind his ear. "She's not- Not my- I mean..."

Dean flops down on the chair next to his brother, shaking his head with a smile. 

"Dude. You got it bad, man", he says, slapping Sam's shoulder, but there's unmistakable fondness to his tone. "Chill, Sammy. Told you, I'm all in. She's a good one."

"I agree, Sam. Eileen and you suit each other well", Cas says, because it's true, because he needs something to do, because he needs someone (else) to look at. "And she seems...very partial towards you, too."

"Thanks, guys." Sam grins awkwardly, but seems genuinely grateful. "I guess", he adds then, and Dean laughs.

Dean laughs. Cas' stomach fills with warmth at the sound, and his head clears with a speed that knocks him back down to earth and head-first into a metaphorical wall of bricks.

Falling feels just like flying, doesn't it. Right until the moment your bones crushed.

This is too nice, too easy. He should leave while he still can, while it's still like this, like it was...before. Almost like before, at least. He shouldn't press his luck. 

"I...ah." He stands slowly, the scratching of his chair on the floor an unwelcome contrast to the warm sounds of Dean's laughter. "I should..."

"You sure, dude?" Sam looks at him with a mixture of confusion and concern. "You don't have to-"

"Yes, actually, I have...things to do", he says lamely, too tired to come up with anything not totally obviously a lie. "Reading", he adds nonetheless, just for good measure. "Yes."

"Cas-"

From the corner of his eye, he can see Sam shifting in his chair, about to get up just as he reaches the door, but the younger Winchester hesitates at his brother's hand on his arm, holding him back.

"Sammy." Dean's voice is barely a whisper, but fortunately (or unfortunately), an angel's hearing exceeds that of humans. "Let him go."

Cas' heart clenches a little, but he can't blame Dean, either. It's rather obvious how tense Dean is all the time whenever Cas is around, he's sure Dean only waits for him to leave so he can finally relax and just enjoy a nice moment with his brother. Cas wonders why Dean doesn't just ask him to leave. He hasn't found an answer, and maybe there is none. Dean has never been someone who makes decisions because they're particularly reasonable or even sensible. And just this once, Cas is glad. He's definitely not going to leave as long as Dean doesn't explicitly ask him to. Not that Cas could bring himself to leave otherwise, even if he wanted to. He knows it's probably some kind of unhealthy, twisted way to feel, but even being with Dean like this, torturous as it might be, is better than not being with Dean at all. 

He slips around the corner and leans against the wall in the corridor, next to the open kitchen door but out of sight. He closes his eyes and just breathes for a second.

"Dean-" Sam's voice echoes clear from inside the room.

"Don't."

"But-"

"Please, Sammy." Dean sounds pained in a way Cas doesn't want to think about too closely. He can just about imagine the tight jaw and furrowed brow. "Not right now."

For a moment, there's silence and Cas waits, frozen on the spot. He doesn't dare move or even breathe, suddenly aware that he's practically listening in on them, unintentional as it may have been. It seems like an eternity until one of them speaks again, seconds in which he fears the brothers will leave the kitchen and find him there, but he can't sneak away now, his shoes would be too loud on the tiles. Oh, how he still misses his wings... 

"So." Cas lets out a shaky breath at the relieving sound of Dean's voice. It's different now, more carefree, more relaxed, more like Dean. "Let's talk about you for a change.  You gonna do something about it or what?"

"Do something about what?"

"The 'not your girlfriend' shit?" There's the smirk in his voice again and Cas smiles.

"Hah. That coming from you is-" Sam trails off, but Cas doesn't need to hear more to agree that he kind of does have a point. "I'm so not gonna take relationship advice from you, Dean."

"Hey! I've had relationships!"

"Yeah, but I'd like mine to last longer than nine hours."

Dean huffs theatrically, Cas' smile deepens.

"You wound me, little brother."

"Yeah, whatever."

"Bitch."

"Jerk."

The smiles in their voices ring clear as day, so much love and affection speaking from them that Cas almost can't suppress a sigh.

He'd missed this. He missed those moments. 

He wishes he could be part of them again.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

When the memories overwhelm him, back in the quiet loneliness of his room, he lets them.

He remembers replaying moments like the one he'd just witnessed in his head, those moments he'd fed on for years, clung to like a safe rope. Rides in the Impala. Evenings with beer and laughter. A smile over something Cas had said. A hand on his arm. A hug after a long time apart. In that moment, when he'd been sure that it was all gone, all he could hear were the words that he needed to say.

He'd thought it would all end. 

He'd thought he'd die. He'd thought Dean would die.

He remembers the panic and dread he'd felt at the thought. He remembers the pounding of Billie's fist against the door. He remembers the frightened look in the green eyes he loves so much. He remembers how he knew that nothing mattered but to keep the spark of life in those eyes.

He remembers how he made a decision.

Dean was hurting under the surface. Cas knew that. He knew he had many storms to weather. Too many. The righteous man, his fellow angels had said, but no one had cared to mention that he was so much more than that title, yet thought so little of himself. A man that wouldn't hesitate a second to sacrifice himself, always falling to the illusion that everyone else's life was worth more than his own.

Perhaps Cas could finally return that gesture. His very last, very own act of service.

So, before I go...

He'd hoped there was something he could say to make it all stop hurting so much. It killed him how Dean's mind could make him feel so worthless. Maybe he'd be better off at last if Cas let his walls finally down. Maybe he'd find some peace, maybe he could make peace with himself if Cas just told him, told him everything he was, told him everything Cas knew him to be, told him everything he was to Cas.

But it wasn't just for Dean. It was just as much for himself. He needed it, that liberation, that knowledge that he went without any secrets to be left unsaid, that happiness that lay in hearing the words from his own lips and having them heard by the ears they had always been meant for.

He never imagined he could find himself in this situation now. He'd never imagined he could survive. He'd never imagined he'd have to deal with the consequences of his confession.

He's still here, he's home. Right now though, the familiar walls of his room surrounding him are no comfort. They seem to besiege him, blank and cold and undomestic, just like the rest of the space. If he were to leave, there would be no trace that someone had lived here at all. He'd never owned much of anything that was worth keeping here, and he'd never felt the need to make it feel more like home. This is just a room, as much meaning as it might hold.

But he doesn't need it. What makes it special is that Sam and Dean are here. They are his home and maybe...maybe he is theirs, too.

Dean hasn't talked about it. Cas isn't surprised.

He doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know how to feel.

He knows they have to talk about it eventually. He hates the strained silence that has spread between them ever since, both avoiding to talk about it, so they just don't talk at all.

Cas hates it. But it's safe.

As long as they don't talk, Dean can't reject him. As long as there are no words, he can't be sent away. So he plays along. Dean doesn't know what to say. And Cas doesn't even know what he'd want to hear from him.

Because he knows what he wants to hear isn't an option.

And he knows what he wants to say is not what Dean wants to hear.

And he can't do that. He can't force it on Dean, force himself on Dean. Not again. He's said everything there is to say. He won't insist on anything further. That's not what's best for Dean.

If Dean wants space, Cas is going to honour his wishes.

So, there's silence.

Silence. And safety.

 

Chapter Text

He's a fucking coward.

Four days. It's been four days and he hasn't said anything to Cas. 

Well. He said Hey and Morning and Thanks and How about coffee.

Yep. Master of conversation.

Thing is, he hasn't really talked to Cas. Nothing that would matter. He's been thinking about it a lot. He's been thinking about it too much. He's written whole pages of monologue in his head, a million ways to apologize to an angel (honestly, it's probably a lot easier to die in the West, ok), found them all to be empty and pathetic and scratched them out again.

It sounds easy, just saying I'm sorry. It isn't.

He's standing in the doorway to the library, shoulder leaned against the frame, arms crossed in front of his chest. He watches how Sam hugs Eileen for the first time in weeks and his heart aches. There are so many echoes of hugs with Cas he can still feel on himself like phantom touches, warm arms wrapped around him, joy and relief seeping from the angel and flooding his insides with something heavy and pleasant, something grounding. It's been That Day, the last time they hugged, and even then it hadn't actually been a real hug. Not with the Empty raging around them. Not with the cold fear twisting his belly and overshadowing the moment of rare intimacy.

The hug happening in front of him lasts maybe a little too long (Dean can relate to that, too) and he's happy for Sammy, he really is. Still, he can't help but feels just a tiny sting of jealousy as well.

"Hi, Dean." Eileen has disentangled herself from the wide arms of his brother and waves over to him with a bright smile. Dean smiles back as sincerely as he can. It takes a bit of effort, but it's manageable. He's genuinely glad to see her, after all, he'd missed her, swirling around the bunker and lightening the atmosphere with her quick wit, not to mention how pleased he is to finally see Sam happy. He's earned it, the little moose. 

Before Dean can move to go hug her as well (not that he's absolutely fucking craving a hug right now or anything, that'd be ridiculous) she turns, directing her beaming smile and kind eyes to the angel she's spotted in the corner.

"Cas."

"Hey, Eileen." Cas smiles, adorable and just a hint awkward as he shifts on the spot, apparently unsure if to step forward or not. Eileen takes pity on him, opening her arms in invitation with a grin that's quickly mirrored by Cas when he realises what she's asking. He wraps her into a hug that makes Dean's heart clench and eyes sting and he has to look away. 

How pathetic. He should be ashamed of himself. (He is.) Not only that he's too much of a coward himself to admit to what he wants and to fucking go and ask for it, dammit, he can't even watch others have it and not be a jealous ass about it. 

Well done, Dean. Project your own resentment on your family, why don't you. Great move. Just fucking great.

He clenches his hands to fists by his sides and fixes his eyes on the floor. This is awful. He should be happy that they're happy, and he is. He really is. But...y'know. But. 

He really needs to go back to his room. Better sooner than later. Hiding there forever suddenly sounds like a pretty solid plan. 

And before it can creep into his conscious thoughts how fucked up that actually is right now, he has already turned around and is halfway down the corridor. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Eileen releases Cas from her embrace and immediately notices the sudden change in atmosphere. She can watch the angel's face falling, a veil of sadness dimming the bright smile he'd given her just moments before, and following Cas' gaze to the doorway Dean had been standing in only moments ago, she instantly knows what happened. He's gone. 

Cas sighs almost imperceptibly and she feels her heart ache for him. When he looks back at her, his smile is brave and soft, but she can see the tired act it's built on. Eileen smiles back as reassuringly as possible and squeezes his hands.

"I...ah." Cas lowers his gaze to their feet, nodding to himself. "I should probably give you two some privacy as well. I'm sure you have a lot to catch up on." He nods at Sam and takes a step back, causing Eileen to reluctantly let go of his hands. She can't stand the resignation that speaks clearly from his voice, even though his words are warm and gentle, and there's an urge in her to wrap him up in a hug again and tell him that it's all going to be fine, but she knows that's not what he needs right now. What that poor angel damn well needs is for Dean to pull his head out of his ass and do it himself. (Not that telling him that would be a good idea, either.)

Cas turns and makes his way to the door Dean vanished through and Eileen exchanges a quick glance with Sam who's coming up behind her, the same mixture of concern and sympathy on his face that she feels herself. Before he walks out though, Cas turns again, smiling when he sees that Sam has put an arm around her shoulder. 

"It's good to have you back", he says, and in this moment, he looks genuinely happy, if even for only a second.

"Thanks, Cas." Eileen watches him leave and can't help but be even more grateful for the warmth of Sam's hand, reminding her that perhaps, she's already found what the angel is so desperately craving.

"No improvement, then", she says, more statement than question, and turns in Sam's hold. The sigh she earns is more than answer enough.

"No." He throws a sad glance at the empty doorway, slightly shaking his head. "I tried to talk to Dean but...you know how he is."

"Did you talk to Jack about them again?"

He shakes his head again. His eyes keep flitting to the door and Eileen knows exactly what he's thinking. She knows how hard it must be for him to watch his brother and Cas in pain like that and not really being able to do anything about it. She's barely been here for half an hour and can already feel the thick atmosphere. And Sam...Sam and Dean are hunters. Eileen knows the life, she knows the sort of people that choose it and why. She knows it's the feeling of being needed that has kept the Winchester brothers alive for so long, the feeling of making a difference. Saving people, hunting things. They're not used to being trapped in the sort of helplessness that Sam's experiencing right now. Because this is nothing he can keep his family safe from, and there's nothing worse than having to stand by and watch when the ones you love are hurting.

"I-I'm sorry, maybe I should..." Sam squeezes her arm and drops his hands, making move to follow his brothers, but Eileen quickly grabs his hand and holds him back.

"Sam. Wait." His brow is furrowed when he looks at her, but she just smiles at him soothingly. "Let me", she says then and his eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

"Really? You sure?"

"Yeah..." She nods confidently. "Maybe this calls for a bit of feminine intervention, you know?"

"Mh..Okay." He still seems surprised, but nods in agreement. "Be careful, though. I'd like to have you back in one piece", he jokes and Eileen grins.

"Oh, Sam." She lets go of his hand, starts walking backwards in the direction of the door, a little smirk playing around the corners of her mouth. "I've just finished a whole nest of vampires, I'm sure I can handle your brother."

Sam huffs, but she's pleased to note that he can't hide the smile. "If you say so."

"Trust me."

She's just about to turn when she sees him saying her name from the corner of her eye and hesitates. Sam smiles, warm and beautiful. Thank you, he gestures silent and Eileen feels her heart flutter just a bit. 

You're welcome, she signs back before she slips around the corner. 

She passes what she thinks to remember is Cas' room, the door's open a smidge and she's surprised to notice his bed empty as she walks by, but before she can give it much thought, she's reached her destination. Coming to stand in front of Dean's room Eileen doesn't hesitate before she knocks and slowly opens the door, peering inside.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"You spoke to Jack about us?"

"Cas!" Sam spins around in surprise, eyes wide and smile uncomfortable. "You almost gave me a heart attack, dude."

"Sam." Cas walks up to him, fixing him with unblinking eyes. "Jack", he repeats, not letting himself be distracted. "What did he say."

Great. So it seems Cas hadn't gone to his room after all and heard him talking to Eileen. Sam sighs. This conversation is gonna be just...

"Cas...look, man, I'm sorry", he says, shifting on his feet. "I should have told you, I know, but I didn't want to worry you and-"

"Worry me?" Cas furrows his brow and tilts his head to the side, the way Sam knows is driving Dean insane. "What should I be worried about?"

Sam mentally slaps himself. 

"Nothing!", he assures quickly, panicking a little under the gaze of those squinted eyes. "That's what I was trying to avoid by not telling you, ok? That you worry about something that's nothing to worry about, y'know?" 

Oh yeah, very eloquent, Sam, keep riding yourself deeper into this, why don't you? 

He breaks off, sighs again. This isn't going anywhere, is it. He's just gonna have to tell him sooner or later, so why not just come out with it?

"Okay", he says, making a soothing gesture with his hands, "look. Jack came to me, okay? He wanted to know if everything's alright between you and Dean."

Cas' expression softens, understanding spreading across his face.

"Of course", he says seriously. "He had to notice the giraffe in the room."

"Elephant", Sam mumbles (he can't help it, ok? Don't judge), "but yeah. In fact, he...he was talking about your bond."

"Our-" Cas' eyes widen. "Why? What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing's wrong, Cas, please calm down." Sam puts a hand on the angel's shoulder. "He just said he could somehow feel that something was different about it, that's all. But he said he thinks it's stronger, ok? It's all fine", he promises. No need to let Cas know that he's not so sure about that himself.

"Stronger?" Cas seems just as confused as Sam had been himself receiving that information. "But that...makes no sense", he murmurs as if speaking more to himself, eyes wandering over the floor at their feet. When they snap back up, there's a hint of nervousness wrapped up in the tangle of emotion. He opens his mouth, closes it again, licks his lips. "Have you spoken to Dean about this?"

Sam shakes his head.

"No. I knew he wouldn't...take it very well", he says cautiously and Cas tilts his head in confirmation. "I tried to talk to him about it without mentioning Jack and the bond thing, but..."

He trails off and watches how Cas nods, hanging his head a little.

"I see." He sounds impossibly tired, beaten somehow, and Sam has to suppress another sigh.

"But if you wanted to talk, Cas...", he offers instead, letting the question linger in the air between them. He knows it's probably a futile endeavour, but he still hopes beyond hope the angel will accept. It might do him good and...Sam has to admit that this whole thing starts to weigh on his own conscience. He just wants to finally know what happened. If he knew, maybe he could help, maybe he could...

"Sam... " Cas is hesitant, but his eyes are soft and there's a grateful smile on his lips. "I'm just not sure...if Dean didn't tell you anything, I'm not really comfortable-"

Sam silences him with a wave of his hand.

"It's okay, Cas." He lets out the sigh he'd been holding. He'd known this would come. Still, it had been worth the try. "I know. I understand. It's strictly none of my business, anyway. It's not your fault."

He runs a hand over his neck, contemplating if he should just let the poor guy go back to his routine of silent suffering or if there is something more he can say to help, so lost in thought that he nearly misses Cas' next words.

"But it is." The angel's voice is barely above a whisper, his eyes lowered to the floor. 

"W-What?"

"It...it is my fault", Cas repeats silently. "All of it."

"What do you mean?", Sam asks softly, his hand coming up to touch the other man's shoulder, but he lets it sink again when Cas closes his eyes and shakes his head. "Cas?" He doesn't want to press, but... "Please", he begs, "I'm really worried, okay? I hate to see you like this...Both of you. You're clearly unhappy, why won't you just...talk to him, I guess?"

Cas sighs, a sigh that sounds heavy with all the exhaustion and sadness in the world. 

"When Billie was after us...", he finally says, eyes coming back up to hesitantly meet Sam's, "I knew the only way to defeat her would be the Empty. So I used a deal I'd made to summon it. I'm not going into detail, but...it may suffice to say that I told Dean something..." He swallows hard. "...something about myself and...the nature of my feelings for him, and...well, it was..."

He blushes and even without the treacherous colour painting the angel's cheeks, it isn't hard for Sam to guess what exactly the nature of those feeling involves. And even though Cas probably wouldn't agree with him at the moment, Sam is relieved beyond words. At least one of them had finally come around and actually said it. It's a start. A bumpy one, no question, but a start nonetheless. 

"Cas." Sam smiles knowingly. "It's fine. You don't have to explain." 

"You-..." Sam watches as his brow furrows for a moment, then his eyes widen in surprised understanding. "You know?"

Sam smiles and shrugs apologetically. "I...strongly suspected."

"And...you're okay?", Cas asks, half wonder, half disbelief. "With me...and...?"

"Of course, man." Sam pats the angel's arm in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. "You're my brother too, Cas", he says truthfully, pleased to find the angel's face finally lighting up.

"Thank you, Sam. I regard you as a brother as well."

"So..." Sam clears his throat. Back into dangerous territory. "What did he say?"

He almost regrets asking, as fast as Cas' face falls again. But what had he expected, really? That telling silence in the last weeks is hint enough, and apart from that, it's Dean they're talking about here.

"Nothing", Cas says, confirming Sam's worst suspicion. "We were interrupted before it came to anything. Then there was still Chuck to deal with and...well, it somehow petered out."

"And you two have kept that radio silence ever since??"

Cas just shrugs.

"Wow...I'm...really sorry, Cas." It's poor consolation, but what can he say to this, really?

"It's fine, Sam." Cas is the one patting the younger Winchester's arm this time, signalising that he understands Sam's lack of something better to say. "I didn't expect anything to come of it, really." (I didn't expect to survive in the first place.) "He...he doesn't see me that way", Cas says with a sad smile. "He doesn't see himself that way."

Sam draws his eyebrows together. "What do you mean?"

"I'm an angel", Cas explains, "so I'm technically agender, but I'm still in a male body, and he..." He trails off, shrugs again.

Oh. Okay. So we're having that talk now. Uff.

"Ah. Well." Sam nervously drives a hand through his hair, steadying himself. He can do this. He just needs to find the right words. "It's...Cas. You know, Dean, he...he's got a hard time, dealing with his own feelings. You know him, it's not really the Winchesters' strong suit." He grins apologetically and even Cas gives him a faint smile. "And our dad...you know, our dad didn't make Dean's life very easy." 

Sam knows that Cas had seen Dean's memories when he raised him out of Hell all those years ago, but Cas had once assured a very agitated Dean that he'd stored that information away in his mind somewhere, accessing it only if explicitly asked to.  

"He loved us, dad, but...he had an interesting way of showing it", Sam continues meaningfully, choosing his words with care. "And Dean...Dean idealised him, y'know, wanted to please him more than anything. Dad had a very specific image of what a man, especially a hunter, had to be like. So that's what Dean set for himself. And even though Dad's long gone, that's nothing you can just cut from one moment to the next. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to, Cas", he says, pressing his lips together while he thinks about his next words. 

"I...I can't speak for Dean in this, God knows I have no right", he says then, huffing lightly, "Damn, he'd probably kill me if he knew I'm telling you as much as I did, but...I want him to be happy, Cas. And I know that he needs you in his life", Sam tells him truthfully, noticing how Cas draws in a breath, "In what way I can't say, but...I'm just asking you..." Asking Cas to give Dean time sounds pathetic, considering how long this had already been going, but...to hell with it.

"Just...don't give up on him yet, okay?"

"Of course not, Sam", Cas says, and somehow, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world coming from him. "That's an easy promise to make. I could never give him up."

"I know, Cas." Sam nods. He does know. It's still nice to hear. "Thanks."

"Thank you, Sam. I think I understand better now." Cas' brow is wrinkled in thought, his voice genuine and grateful. "I appreciate you telling me."

Silence spreads between them, both unsure if to say something else or just...well, go their ways, or whatever one usually does after emotionally engaging conversations. It's not like those happen very frequently in their family, ok? In the end, the angel just nods at him again with a smile and Sam smiles back as he watches Cas make his way towards the corridor. 

Ah, wait. One more thing. 

"Oh, and Cas?"

The angel stops in his tracks and turns back towards him.

"Yes?"

"Try to talk to him", Sam tells him. "He wants to. He just doesn't know how."

Cas shifts on his feet, hesitates. 

"I don't want to pressure him", he says then, visibly uncomfortable. "I-...I'm scared, Sam", he admits, a sudden wave of emotion making his voice waver, and Sam feels a new surge of sympathy for him. "What if I ruined it? What if I ruined our friendship? I couldn't bear to lose him, I-"

"No, Cas, hey..." Sam closes the distance between them with a few wide steps and without thinking, wraps Cas into a hug that the other gratefully reciprocates. "It's okay, I know. It'll be fine, Cas", Sam assures him gently, praying that he's right. "I can't tell you how he feels or how he'll react, but what I do know, Cas, is that Dean needs you, too. He loves you", he says confidently, because he's absolutely certain it's true, "in whatever way he can. You know that." He releases his hold a bit, enough to be able to look down at the angel. "That bond that you have...I don't understand it, but it's strong. Trust it. Trust yourself. And trust Dean. I'm sure it'll come around eventually, yeah?"

Cas manages a smile and nods.

"Okay." He lets go of the younger Winchester and takes a step back. "I hope you're right, Sam."

"You'll see. You're gonna get through this. But you have to talk about it", Sam repeats meaningfully. "So just...maybe try to be around him a bit more. Talk to him about other stuff", he suggests. "Just don't stay away from him, okay?" He smirks to himself. "Y'know, those looks you give him when he leaves a room..?"

Cas bites his lip in embarrassment, but nods again. Sam smiles affectionately. 

"He does the same thing with you", he tells him, and he could swear there's just the faintest spark of hope in Cas' eyes when he smiles back.

Chapter Text

Eileen stands in the door of Dean's room, the hunter sprawled out over his bed, arms crossed behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Miracle is lying at his feet, his snout placed on Dean's left shin.

"Dean?"

His head snaps up in sync with the dog's, eyebrows raised in surprise. It would look funny if she didn't know about the thoughts he'd most certainly been ripped out of by her entering.

"Eileen, hey!" He looks confused, but not unhappy to see her. That's a good sign. Maybe he's more in talking mood than she anticipated. As far as there is something like talking mood when it comes to Dean.

"Can I...?" She gestures inside and watches how he gets up from the bed, already waving her to get in.

"Yeah, sure."

Eileen smiles and steps over the threshold, closing the door behind her by leaning against it with her back.

The dog comes up to her, wiggling his tail and she leans down to scratch him behind his ears.

"You were gone so quickly I didn't even really get to say hi", she says to Dean, sprinkling a hint of reproach into her voice, just for good measure. (She can't help it, ok? Getting The Dean Winchester all flustered is a skill, and an amusing one at that.) She silently congratulates herself when he grins a little guiltily.

"Oh, yeah, sorry 'bout that", he says, rubbing a hand over his neck. "I had...ah. Stuff, y'know."

It's almost ridiculous how bad both of these morons are lying, really. She has to appreciate the effort though and doesn't comment on it.

"Yeah..." Dean lets his gaze wander through the room, apparently unsure where to settle. She's aware that he's making excuses, and he's aware that she's aware. Because come on - fucking everyone would be aware. It seems like he doesn't come across anything worth focusing on, though, finding the courage to lock eyes with her after all.

"Anyway." He claps his hands, shrugging the air of awkwardness like a coat to reveal the usual confident Dean she knows and loves. "Come here!" He opens his arms, waving her over, and Eileen can't help but smile.

His hug is warm and affectionate and she melts into it for a moment, enjoying the feeling of a brother she found in this unexpected place. When he releases her, she wastes no time before she sits down on the bed as if it were the most natural thing in the world, petting down in invitation for Dean to join her. He quirks an eyebrow at her.

"Is Sammy not gonna miss you?" He smirks and Eileen gives him a scolding glance.

"I'm sure your brother can manage without me for a few minutes."

"Ah, I wouldn't be so sure about that if I were you", he says, but sits down nevertheless and she grins. "You should've heard him. Telling everyone with ears how you took out those vamps all by yourself."

Her heart flutters at that, but this is not about her.

"And by everyone with ears you mean..." She trails off, leaving an expectant pause.

"Basically me an' C-Cas, yeah." She notices how he stumbles slightly over the name, looks down at his hands in his lap while he speaks, the way his voice gets quieter. Maybe leading the conversation to that direct topic isn't the best way to go, she decides. As much as she'd like to just straight up (okay, bad choice of words, perhaps) tell him to get his ass up right this minute to go ravage that angel of his, there might be more subtle ways, ways that don't lead to Dean having an imminent panic attack.) Perhaps this calls for a more...discreet approach.

"I thought so." She doesn't let anything show about her noticing his nerves. Better keep him comfortable.

"It's nice, though", she goes on. "Having someone like you two who know the life. And appreciate...what I do, you know", she tells him earnestly. Sometimes, it's easier to hear it from someone else's perspective. And it's no big deal for her. She's been there, too.

"Yeah, I know." She knows he does. That's why she feels at home here. That's why they feel like family. They know.

"I've been alone for a very long time, Dean", she says, looking at the wall in front of her. "Even before I started hunting that banshee. Ever since school, really. Wasn't the most popular kid, after..." She throws a meaningful glance at him, smiles sadly. She's not too keen on revisiting that time in her head, but she's made peace with it. The past. More than he has, anyway.

"I've been underestimated a lot. People thought they could...push me around." She laughs a little grimly and feels him shifting beside her. When she looks though, he's smiling confidently.

"I'm sure you taught them to piss off", he says, mirroring the grin she feels spreading on her face at that.

"You bet." She lightly bumps his shoulder with hers before letting the calm settle again. She's not quite made her point yet, and she wants to make sure that he really listens. Not just hears, but understands.

"But it caused me to build a barrier around myself", she finally says, watching his face. "I shut myself off and...it was safer this way. But it was also very lonely." Her voice is cautious, still, she can see how Dean swallows.

"And then I met you and Sam and...you know." She gives him a sincere smile, lightens the atmosphere without losing the seriousness. This is important. For both of them. She knows, and she believes he does, too. "Sometimes you gotta take that leap of faith and let people in. It's scary, but..." She places a hand on his knee, pats it softly, "sometimes they're worth it."

He doesn't say anything for a long while, she can see from the corner of her eye how he's leaned forward slightly, eyes lowered to his feet or maybe her hand on his knee. She can't tell. She shares the silence with him, lets her words sink in, waits patiently until she sees him sigh.

Then, without announcement, he suddenly wraps an arm around her shoulder and hugs her from the side. Eileen leans into it, smiling to herself when she feels his chin settling on her head.

She knows he's not going to say anything. She doesn't need him to.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Dean lies on his bed, eyes closed and music turned up on his headphones, wondering when every goddamn song had become about Cas.

How can you see into my eyes like open doors?, the angelic (oh, come on) voice of Amy Lee sings in his ears.
Leading you down into my core where I've become so numb
Without a soul, my spirit's sleeping somewhere cold
Until you find it there and lead it back home

Nope, doesn't sound like being gripped tight and raised from perdition at all.

All this time I can't believe I couldn't see
Kept in the dark but you were there in front of me
I've been sleeping a thousand years it seems
Got to open my eyes to everything

He groans, his face buried in the pillow, and blindly gropes for his phone on the nightstand.

Without a thought, without a voice, without a soul
Don't let me die here
There must be something more
Bring me to life

There. His fingers close around the square object and he peeks one eye out of the white softness to find the pause button. Ripping the headphones out of his ears, he lets everything fall down on the floor next to his bed and slumps back down into the mattress.

His life sucks tremendously. And that's saying something, considering they'd been faced with the literal Endtimes. More than once. There's no possibility of imminent death lurking now, but he almost wishes there was. Easier to shut out your personal life when you got your survival to focus on.

Well. There's nothing out there now.

Welcome to the Times Of General Crappiness.

He knows they needed to talk, like theoretically, but heck if he has any idea what to say.

It isn't something he'd had to deal with in the past. Because Dean Winchester, in general, doesn't get rejected, no one turns down sparkling green eyes and a seductive smile. It's been enough to get him through most doors and into most beds. But this is not a random hookup.

It isn't something he'd had to deal with in the past. Because everything Dean knows is meaningless sex with meaningless women he'd picked up in meaningless bars for just one meaningless night. No fears, no thoughts, no consequences, no obligations.

This is not random. This is not meaningless.

And where rejection hasn't even been a real concept before, it is now staring in his face and baring its teeth and growling its threatening arrival.

Rejection doesn't mean you're not good enough, a weak little part of left-over self-esteem says inside of him. It means the other person didn't recognise what you have to offer. But there are lots of louder voices drowning it out, proclaiming that he's gonna be rejected because Cas will know exactly that he has nothing to offer at all.

Those women didn't know him, saw nothing but a soft voice and a handsome face, another shot at someone warm and willing. And it's been enough. For those nights. What he wants with Cas, it requires a form of intimacy that goes beyond the physical aspect. (Not that he doesn't want that too, goddamn, he does, and it fucking scares him.) But the fucking scariest shit about all this is having to open up emotionally. Not something he does, ok? Like...ever.

Boundaries are safe. Walls are protection. Personal space is an armour.

Has he built all that to protect himself or rather those around him? He isn't sure anymore. Maybe both.

And yet, he can't shrug Eileen's words that keep echoing in his head.

But it was also very lonely, she'd said. He knows.

Sometimes you gotta take that leap of faith and let people in.

She's right. He knows she is. Like...in theory. It's the practice he lacks.

This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith.

Maybe he's too focused on where he's been to pay attention to where he's going.

Trying to go, anyway.

When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound? All that energy he'd put into isolating himself. And what for? Putting himself in a position where no one can see, no one can hear, no one can help? How is he supposed to know if they would? How is he ever gonna know if someone would take interest if he just let them? How is he gonna know if he wouldn't have to be alone if he allowed others in?

When you're sitting in a trap it only needs one person to open the bolt.

It's scary, but...sometimes they're worth it.

Cas, Cas is worth it.

He already digs graves for a living, does he really have to do one for this friendship, too?

He groans into the pillow and turns to lie on his back. Oh, fuck it.

Hey, Cas, you got your ears on? He stares at the white ceiling, counts the little cracks in the paint above his head. He should maybe renovate the place some time.
Look, man, I...ah. I got something to say and I...I don't wanna do it like this, so. I guess I'm gonna come over, yeah? Just wanted to announce myself. I case you wanna...barricade the door or anything. Dean shakes his head to himself. Trust him to fuck up earnestness with humour.
If you don't wanna talk, that's cool too, I mean...Anyway, that was it. I...I'm gonna be on my way, then.

Amen.

That wasn't too bad. Not too too bad. Right?

Dean sighs, heaving himself off the bed. He sits on the edge for a moment, hands on his knees, takes a deep breath. This is gonna work.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

He's gonna knock. He is. Any second now. He told Cas he's coming. He can't back out now.

Don't be a dick, Dean. Done that enough in the last couple weeks.

He's gonna knock. He is. He-

He knocks.

"Cas?" He waits for an answer, gets none. "It's me. Can I come in?"

There's no sound from inside. Maybe Cas had taken up on his offer and actually built a barricade or some shit. Maybe he just poofed out (then he remembers Cas can't do that anymore, and the thought that he might have walked out is even worse, because it requires so much more work, so much more intention). Maybe he's gone. Maybe-

But then the door opens, and Cas is standing there, coat and tie and slightly ruffled hair and perfect holy tax accountant image and Cas.

"Of course, Dean."

He steps aside, inviting Dean in, who takes a steadying breath and follows on legs that don't feel sure about making those steps at all. He can hear how the angel closes the door behind him, and just like that it hits him that they're alone now, in Cas' room, the room they gave him to stay in, where no one's gonna suddenly burst in, actually truly alone for the first time in weeks, the first time since...since...

He turns around, and Cas is still standing by the door, his face blank and body unmoving. Dean can't help but think about how much this looks like someone who tries to stay in reach of a means to escape, and maybe a way to flee from him isn't the stupidest thing Cas has ever done.

In a surge of panic, Dean starts pacing through the room, a biting contrast to the angel's stiff posture. His eyes are moving though, Dean can feel them following him as he picks up his pace. Because maybe if he keeps moving, if he makes himself a moving target, just maybe these divine blue eyes won't be able to settle long enough to scorch through him and burn away the last crumb of determination he'd scratched together.

Throwing a glance at Cas from the corner of his eye, he finds him about as easy to read as per usual. Which means pretty much not at all. Okay. Great. He takes a deep breath.

Just go for it.

"Cas- Look, man, I'm sorry."

Look, man. Great start. Because he's Dean and adds man and buddy and pal to every sentence because this is all totally platonic.

Right. Right? Right.

"What for, Dean?"

Cas still isn't moving, but at least he talks.

"Isn't that obvious?" Don't make me say it, don't make me say it, dontmakemesayit...

"Apparently not if I require further explanation."

Dean sighs, stopping in his tracks, pinches the bridge of his nose before rubbing his tired eyes. He can't look at Cas. Not while he's saying this. Not while he forces him to say this.

"For...for everything", he presses out, eloquent as ever. "All that...bitching at you in the kitchen and...letting you sit here alone when you should be out there with Sam and Eileen and Jack and..." Me. You should be (out there) with me.

"So should you, Dean." Cas' voice is calm and soft, and apparently he moved because suddenly he's closer, too close, his voice right by Dean's left ear and the hunter has to suppress a shudder.

"Not the point I'm tryin' to make here, Cas." He backs off a little, creates his sacred personal space so he can continue breathing.

"Damn, I'm no good with this shit, Cas. Words. Feelings." The word feels strange in his mouth and he swallows, tries to adjust his tongue to the unfamiliar sensation. "You know that." You know me. "I just...I've been a dick, okay? And not just...that thing in the kitchen or...I dunno. Just...y'know. And I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"

He's too quick in needing forgiveness. He doesn't know what else to ask.

"Forgive you?" He can fucking hear the head tilt in his voice, the way his brow is wrinkled. He isn't gonna look. "Dean-"

He knows Cas is about to object, is going to make some excuse for him he doesn't deserve. He doesn't deserve his forgiveness either. He can't not ask for it.

"Cas, just answer the damn question", he breaks the angel off, closing his eyes, pressing his teeth together.

"Of course, Dean. I forgive you."

Cas is too quick in granting forgiveness. He didn't even have to think about it.

"Thanks." He feels a breath leave his throat that he didn't know he'd been holding, and although he knows that this isn't right, knows that Cas shouldn't let him down that easily, he can feel a weight being lifted from his shoulders.

He wants to apologize once more, because it's the only thing he can think of doing, but he makes the mistake to finally look at Cas and the expression on his face make all words die in Dean's throat.

"I-" He stammers, stares. I'm sorry. I'm scared. I love you.

He still can't say it. He wishes he could. He wishes he could have made a move a long time ago, just fuck everything and do it. And...maybe he has.
I need you. I'm not leaving here without you. I'd rather have you, cursed or not.
He knows he kind of has, he just pretended not to know what it meant. He's always been very good at disguising his own actions in the cape of harmlessness. He's always been very good at lying to himself for the sake of avoiding his own shame.

We all eat lies if our hearts are hungry.

Right now, there are no lies left. Everything is plain and clear on Cas' face, the blue in his eyes like an open book for Dean to read. Listening through looks rather than words.

Tell me, those eyes seem to say. Tell me that you're hurting. Tell me I mean something to you, anything. Don't just assume I know (although I do, I do...). Tell me how you feel. Show me I'm important enough to be told.

And Dean...Dean is sure his own eyes are answering undisguisedly. He doesn't find it in himself to stop them anymore.

What I feel? You know what I feel, don't you. Maybe you don't. Not even I know what I feel. So why do you need words?, he pleads. Why do you insist on words when you know I can't give you words. Not the ones you need.

He's shaken out of his trance when his fingers suddenly meet something solid and warm. He's not aware that he moved his hand at all. He's definitely not aware that he moved his hand to take Cas'. What the hell.

He doesn't let go.

"I hate this, Cas", Dean whispers, only half aware what's coming out of his mouth by now. His eyes are fixed on their joined hands, and he knows so are Cas'. "And I...I miss you. I miss my best friend."

He should move his hand. He really should.

Move, he thinks. Nothing. He thinks it again. His hand doesn't move. He really, really should. He really, really doesn't want to. His breath hitches in his throat when he watches Cas' hand move instead, fingers slowly and carefully threading with his.

"I've missed you too, Dean."

Dean's eyes snap up and he releases a shaky breath at the sight that greets him. Cas' features are a turmoil of emotion. A soft smile in the corner of his mouth collides with the sparks of surprise and fear in his eyes, all wrapped up by a general mixture of awe and confusion.

Extraordinary, really, how far he'd come. He remembers the Angel of the Lord that walked through those barn doors as if it had been yesterday, remembers the sparks, the noise, the look on his face. He remembers how fascinated and captured he'd instantly been, frightened, too. It had been a very confusing mess that moulded together to enticing excitement. This is better. The sparks are inside him now and Cas is still fascinating, powerful, enticing - but he's no stranger anymore. He isn't even a friend.

He's his.

The way the thought forms in him is sudden and unbidden, and in a strange way he knows it's true, even though he's not exactly sure what it means.

What are they? What is Cas to him? What is Cas in this world?

The power of that first day they'd met is still there, the grace buzzing through his veins, but it's laced with humanity now. Angel by name rather than inclination.

"Why can't we just-" Dean licks his dry lips with his dry tongue, tries to steady his shaky voice. "Can we just go back to the way things were? Before..."

Before I started to fuck this all up, Dean thinks.
Before I told you that I love you, Cas hears.

Dean won't admit to it, but he almost whimpers a bit when Cas lets go of his hand. The air hitting his skin feels colder than it should, and he panics for a second - he'd said the wrong thing again, he's an idiot, he'd fucked it up, he-

"We can try." Cas' words are like a warm shower, and even though Dean doesn't quite know what to make of his voice, he brushes the thought aside. He'll be fucking damned if he won't take what he can get.

"Yeah?"

"Of course, Dean." Cas smiles at him, small and tentative, but it's a smile, and it's for him.

"Huh. That-" That's all I could ask of you, that's all I could hope for, that- "That'd be great, Cas."

Silence spreads between them, still a bit awkward, but different from the heavy tension of the last weeks. This is a shared silence, one that's not forced on the other, but rather partaken in, in mutual agreement. Because sometimes, an understanding silence is better than a bunch of meaningless words. (There is an intimacy about being understood like this, but he doesn't want to think about that too closely right now. Not when he's just made some progress.)

"Hey, you wanna- Ehm." Dean clears his throat, points his thumb in direction of his room. "I thought I'd take Miracle out for a walk. You wanna come?" Cas smiles again, and it seems...freer, somehow.

"I'd like that. Very much."

"Good." Dean smiles back, having a hard time to not let it escalate into a grin and make him look like an idiot. "Good. Meet you in ten?"

Chapter Text

Dean hasn't asked him to leave.

It isn't the same as asking him to stay, but it's a start.

Perhaps Sam is right. Perhaps there's hope. Perhaps they can still be friends.

Cas has never expected anything from Dean, not even that he would be allowed to stay and love him from afar. He hadn't been able to keep himself from hoping though. The Winchesters are his family, the reason he'd fallen in love with the world, with humanity, with...

All he wants is for them to want him back, in whatever way they could. They aren't really good at expressing it, but Cas has slowly learned to read the complicated language of people unable to say they care about each other. They'd let Cas into their home, had given him a room of his own even though they knew he didn't sleep, which was as good as a permanent invitation. It had needed time for him to get the real meaning behind such gestures, but he hopes he understands it now.

In the end, we all just want someone to choose us. Cas had chosen.

He watches Dean play with Miracle, the way the hunter jumps around, squats down with his hands on his knees, laughs at the dog barking and running around, chasing his tail. It's the most carefree Cas has seen Dean in a long time, maybe ever, and he feels his heart flutter. He gets to witness a side he always knew to be there underneath all that responsibility and worry burdening Dean, a side he'd only ever caught glimpses of. 

Cas smiles to himself. The sun is shining through the crowns of the trees, painting the path around the lake in a mosaic of light and shadow. A soft breeze moves the branches and fills the air with the sound of rustling leaves, makes Miracle's long hair dance around. Birds are chirping and the nature is beautiful and alive, and Cas can do nothing but think how right Dean looks here. He's playing and he's smiling and he's surrounded by peace and beauty and it's everything Cas has ever wanted for him. 

"Cas? Hey? Someone home, feathers?"

He's snapped out of his thoughts by Dean's voice, the hunter is looking at him expectantly, one eyebrow raised and mouth curled in amusement.

"Pardon me. I was just...lost in thoughts."

"Obviously." Dean lines in beside him, walks next to him down the path. "Wanna fill me in?"

"Oh", Cas looks down, pretends having to watch his feet while he steps over a root, "it wasn't important." Don't blush.

"Okay." Dean looks at him from the side, eyes squinted curiously, but then he shrugs. "Keep your secrets", he says, but it sounds more teasing than reproachful.

"I don't have secrets." Not anymore. Not from you.

Dean stops at that and looks at him for a moment, a moment during which Cas unconsciously holds his breath even though he's not sure why. Dean opens his mouth, closes it again, and Cas just thinks he's about to say something when Miracle interrupts by jumping at Dean to snatch a stick out of his hand. He watches how Dean scolds the dog playfully, but throws it again anyway, looking after him with a sparkle in his eyes.

Cas stands and stares unabashedly (again), now that Dean's attention is captured elsewhere, the familiar fluttery warmth creeps back into his body.

It had been a long time ago, years like the blink of an eye in an angel's life, years that feel like millennia to Castiel's heart. He hadn't understood it, at first.

Those feelings, new and exciting, but also frightening in their intensity, unknown and uncontrollable. The emotion that had been thrust upon him by spending so much time on earth. It was torture. He wouldn't have exchanged it for the world.

He hadn't known what he wanted, only that he wanted something, which is the worst kind of wanting.

At some point, he had understood. He couldn't even recall a moment when he had known, it had been a steady process, the revelation creeping up on him slowly until it was finally clear as day, so obvious and inevitable that he wondered how he could ever not have known.

It was him. It was always him. Everything in Cas' life leads to him. All his words, all his days, all his decisions, all for him.

I'm hunted, I've rebelled and I did it, all of it, for you.

If he would dream, it would be of him, and he's not ashamed of it. If he is to bestow this kind of love on anyone, he's proud his heart had chosen someone like Dean. Dean Winchester, who doesn't trust easily but loves fiercely, who thinks too little of himself and too much of his faults, who drinks too much because he cares too much, who started up as Castiel's mission and became Cas' friend, who takes up all of his time and all of his thoughts and all of his heart.

And he needs it, this love. It gives him hope, it gives him strength, it gives him direction.

It has even given him his name. Cas. Castiel had been the Angel of the Lord, the cover of God. All names are made up by somebody else and Dean had, without knowing it, stripped the name given by his father of its heavenly duty. The el in his name stood for God, and by removing it, Dean had declared him no longer a possession of Heaven. 

He'd just needed time to figure out that Cas belonged to Dean instead.

Sometimes along the way, it had made him feel lost. He didn't even know his purpose anymore. As an angel in heaven, he'd loved and served God. That was his purpose. As an angel first on earth, he learned to love humanity. That was his purpose. But then, he'd fallen. Fallen from grace, and fallen in love. And as a fallen angel, he'd discovered a new kind of love, love for a single human being, love that was different from everything he'd experienced before. The love he'd known, it had been nothing but a pale imitation of the real thing. This love for Dean, it was overwhelming, all-encompassing, frightening. It was beautiful. Like...Dean's love for pie versus his love for Sam. Even though you used the same word, the meaning behind the feeling was entirely different.

It comes with new aspects, though, this love. Aspects Castiel had yet to understand, had only started to fully explore and learn to experience. It had been confusing, the human aspects of loving someone in a way so thoroughly unlike the innocent angelic love for all of creation. Love directed at a single being, it was strange, contradictive and confusing. Sometimes, it was a warm, pleasant fluttering in his stomach. Then again it was something stronger, more forceful than anything he'd ever encountered, taking control over his mind and even his body.

What is it, that peculiar power Dean seems to have over him? It has been very uncomfortable at first. A smile could clear his head of all thoughts. A touch let his throat go dry. An image popped up in his mind at night, unbidden, refusing to be banned. And his vessel, weak, human thing that it is, acted appropriately to those thoughts...

Or inappropriately. Considering it's his best friend we're talking about. His best friend who'd definitely not want him thinking those thoughts.

Afterwards, he's ashamed. But Dean never needed to know. And none of this is even nearly as embarrassing as going to suck up all of the most evil creatures ever created in the hubris to believe you could become God, so...

He guesses it's all about perspective.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Sam and Eileen could see Dean walking up the staircase from where they had been sitting in the library. They had seen how he'd stopped at the top, leaned with his forearms on the banister and softly spoke to the dog sitting beside him on his leash. Above all, they had seen the soft smile curling the corner of Dean's lips, a smile Sam had missed seeing on his brother in a very long time.

"Hey", Sam had called up, capturing Dean's attention. "Waiting for something?"

"Ah..yeah." Dean had looked down at his feet, the smile deepening, and if Sam had seen that expression on anyone else, he might have called it shy. "Cas...eh. Cas is coming."

"Oh?" Sam's eyebrows had shot up in surprise, but before he could say anything, the angel in question had come sweeping into the room, trenchcoat floating behind him.

"Sorry, am I late?" He hurried up the stairs to Dean who Sam would've sworn to see lightened up at the sight.

"Nah", Dean had grinned. "Right on time."

Sam watched how they stood on the platform for a moment, both smiling those slightly sheepish smiles and a bit too obviously not trying to look at each other. He smiled to himself, warmth bubbling up in his chest at the familiarity of it all. This was what he'd endured for years. He'd never thought he'd be grateful to get it back, but holy shit, he was. 

"Right." Dean cleared his throat then, breaking the moment none of them seemed to be aware had been observed by Sam (he couldn't even be sure they knew he was still in the room at all), Dean opened the heavy bunker door and wordlessly stepped outside, swiftly followed by Cas. The door closed and Sam stood as the echo faded away, unable to stop smiling. 

This is where he still stands right now when he hears the footsteps behind him, and turns to find Eileen, grinning from ear to ear. Sam shakes his head with a disbelieving laugh.

"How on earth did you do it?" 

Eileen shrugs her shoulders.

"I believe it was a joint accomplishment."

"Yeah." Sam huffs. "But I've been trying to work on them for weeks and you're here..what? Maybe an hour and they're talking again."

She innocently shrugs her shoulders again, smiles this smile of hers that carries just a hint of mysteriousness and mischief.

"I mean how?" Sam laughs again. It's a good feeling. Then he shakes his head, lifts his hands and lets them fall to his sides in humble acceptance. "Ah you know what? I don't even care", he goes on, hands flying along and signing the words of their own as he speaks. "You're a genius, I fucking love you, I-"

He breaks off in shock, mouth open, stares at her surprised face. 

Shit. Shitshitshit.

He hadn't meant to say it like that. Fuck.

"I- I meant. I-" He stammers and he knows it, tries to keep himself from producing more words by driving a nervous hand through his hair. An awkward chuckle escapes his throat in a futile attempt to cover up his agitation. "Sorry, that was- uhm."

He meant it. Oh, he meant it. He meant it for a long time. He meant it every time he called her, he meant it when she left, he meant it the last time they kissed, he meant it when he brought her back, he meant it when she was a ghost and maybe even before that. 

He just didn't mean to do it like this. 

He'd learned the sign, he'd thought out scenarios when and where to do it, he'd-

"Sam." Eileen comes back into focus, and his eyes flicker down to his hands for a second when he feels her fingers wrapping around his. He hadn't been aware his hands had been shaking before. Eileen squeezes his fingers slightly and he can do nothing but look up at her, his breath knocked out of his lungs at the smile that greets him.

"I love you, too", she says, no signs, holding onto his hand instead, just says it out loud as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

Sam is staring, and he knows it, but well. He guesses he's entitled. 

"You do?", it slips from his lips, and he mentally slaps himself. Stupid. 

But she just smiles.

"Yeah." 

Sam swallows, eyes lowered to their joined hands.

"Great", he says, of all the things he could have said. But his mind is blank. There's just her hand in his and a feeling of lightness blooming in his chest.  When your heart is involved, it all comes out in moron. "That's..." He trails off, loses himself in tracing his thumb over her knuckles.

"Sam."

His eyes snap back up. "Huh?"

Eileen smirks, something warm that looks like the equivalent of a fond eyeroll.

"That's supposed to be the part where you kiss me, you know?"

She smiles wider, and Sam opens his mouth, feels his reasonable thinking rushing back into his head.

"Oh, yeah." He feels the grin spreading across his own face. "That's...yeah."

And he does.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"Are you happy, Cas?", Dean asks him at some point while they're sitting on a bench between the trees, the beautiful scenery of the lake spread out in front of them. Miracle is playing at the edge of the water. The air is warm around them, the bench is warm from the sun, and Dean has taken off his flannel that's knotted around his waist now.

"W-What?" Cas stumbles over his own tongue, definitely only in surprise about the question and not at all because he's having a hard time not staring at Dean's exposed arms. 

"Are you- Are you happy?" Dean doesn't look at him, eyes sweeping over the wide expanse of water. "It's just because...y'know, you said..."

Happiness is in just being.

Is that what Dean could be alluding to? Surely not. Cas opens his mouth, finds that he doesn't know what to say, closes it again. Is he happy? He's happier, happier than he was yesterday, happier than he was this morning, happier than he was before Dean said I miss you. Is he happy, though? He can't really tell. 

Probably. Maybe. No. 

He's as happy as can be expected. Maybe as happy as he can become. He isn't sure. 

"You know what?" Dean shakes his head to himself before Cas can answer. He's leaned forward, elbows on his thighs, eyes lowered to the ground at his feet. "Forget it. It was just me being- anyway."

Dean watches how Miracle gets all excited over the movement on the surface of the water when he touches it with his paw, curious but not courageous enough to actually step into it yet. He barks at it and Dean smiles. And Cas watches Dean smile, head slightly tilted to the side. 

"Are you happy, Dean?", he hears himself say, a wrinkle in his brow. Dean throws a fleeting glance at him, barely a second before his eyes find the lake again.

"I dunno." His voice is thoughtful and serious. "I guess so. I feel like I should be. I mean look at that." He gestures around, captures the beauty and peace surrounding them with a movement of his hand.

"Yes. I know what you mean."

"We're not really experts in...this. Peace and quiet", he says meaningfully and Cas nods.

"Apple-pie lives", he quotes what Dean had said once, smiles when Dean barks out a laugh.

"Exactly." He goes quiet for a moment, takes a deep breath. "I know I should be grateful", he says then, eyes on his hands, wringing them in his lap, "and I am, I really am. I love the job, y'know. But...My knees aren't what they used to be", Dean tells him with a wry smile. "My back hurts like a bitch every time we get back from a hunt and it's a damn miracle my liver's not killed me already-"

"It would have", Cas mumbles quietly, can't help himself.

A beat of silence. The rustling of fabric as Dean moves towards him. 

"What?"

"It would." Cas is the one strictly looking ahead now, Dean's gaze burning in his side. "If I hadn't healed it." He sighs, turns to finally lock eyes with the stunned hunter. "My healing doesn't only take care of external damage, Dean."

"Oh. I- I didn't know that." Cas smiles sadly, knowingly, and Dean swallows. "Guess I can add that to my list of times you saved my life", he adds half-jokingly, but Cas can hear the gravitas underneath. "Thanks."

"You're welcome."

They sit in silence for a moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds and the dog barking occasionally. Dean has shifted in his seat, is leaned against the back now, right next to Cas, yet so far away. 

"I'm...I'm tired, Cas."

Dean's voice sounds small and exhausted, and as much as the admission comes as a surprise to Cas, he can clearly see the evidence of it when he directs his gaze at Dean's profile. There's a small smile playing around his lips, somehow sad and relieved at the same time. Cas guesses that revelation has taken Dean some time to come to terms with.

He shouldn't be surprised. Deep down, he isn't.

You are so brave and quiet I sometimes forget you are suffering.

"You say that as if it were a reprehensible thing", Cas says slowly, watching Dean intensely. "You've done so much, for so many people. And most don't even know that they owe their lives to you." Dean closes his eyes and Cas feels the need to touch him but holds back. "There's no shame in letting it rest now, Dean", he softly tells him instead. "You've done your share, more than that."

"I know." Dean nods, but there's resistance in his voice. "I mean in theory, I know, it's just..." Dean looks at him, and the look in his eyes shatters something inside of the angel. There's desperation there, a question, the longing for an answer, the fear to get one. "I don't really know how to do it, Cas", Dean admits, trying to hide the vulnerability by looking away. But Cas knows. He's seen it, he hears it, feels it. "How to...not hunt and just..."

He feels responsible, Cas realises. Of course he does. Dean always does. This man that loves too much and cares too much and hurts too much. This man that thinks he has to carry the whole world on his shoulders. 

Cas wishes he could make Dean understand that that's not his burden to bear. But what can he say? To leave the past behind, you have to accept that it's over. No matter how many times you revisit it, regret it, get haunted by it - it's over. It can't harm you anymore. Not if you don't let it.

Letting go, it sounds so easy when he says it like that. But it's not. The hardest part of letting go is to understand that everyone else is okay with you. And Dean isn't even okay with himself. 

There's an ache in Cas, put there by the ache in Dean. His chest contracts painfully as he stares sadly at the person he loves more than anything in this world and tries to think of something to get around that self-boycotting mind, a mind lying that he's good for nothing but taking care of everyone and everything except himself. 

I want to heal the pain you feel on the inside just as I do with the wounds on your skin.

He wants to love Dean in a way that's like lightly running a finger over his soul until he finds a crack - and then gently fill his love into that fissure until it's healed. But Dean doesn't need Cas to fix him. He needs someone to love him while he fixes himself. 

"I don't care what your mind says." Cas' voice is steady and determined when he finally decides on the words. "You deserve to be happy."

Dean's head snaps back to him, wide eyes filled with a mixture of shock and wonder. He opens his mouth, closes it again, absentmindedly licks his lips. Cas believes to notice how one of his hands twitches, as if contemplating if to reach out and touch. And isn't that a self-indulgent thought, Dean wanting to touch him as badly as he wants to touch and comfort Dean right now. Their hands stay where they are, though, the only hint of something going on underneath in the fact that Dean lowers his eyes to his lap, as if to guard them, keep them in place.

"What about you, though?", he asks then, eyes cast down. (It's easier. Directing the conversation away from himself, even if he's afraid of Cas' answer when the words leave his mouth.)

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what about you, Cas? Neither of us is used to...just living", Dean says, and isn't that a sad truth right there. "I mean, I dunno. Maybe Sammy's got other plans. Geez, maybe you've got other plans." He throws a glance at Cas, just to let it glide away and into the distant woods behind him. "You're still an angel you know, and even if you don't got your wings anymore, you could go anywhere you want."

He says it as a matter of fact, but there's a new sort of tension in his jaw all of a sudden, the hands in his lap clench and unclench in a way Cas can't place.

"I have no wish to go anywhere else, Dean", he just tells him calmly, truthfully. 

Not until you ask me to. Because what else is there to say. It's as simple as that.  

"I just mean it'd be fine, y'know. If you did." Dean still doesn't look at him. The words are soft, a puzzling contrast to his strained shoulders.

"I don't."

"Okay."

Dean's voice sounds casual, but Cas thinks to notice how he relaxes slightly, smiles to himself, small and silent, while his gaze glides over the lake. He takes the liberty to believe it's because Dean's actually happy to have him around.

And Cas can do this.

Cas would be his friend, the friend Dean wants him to be, the friend Dean needs him to be. He'd be content in giving his love the way Dean is able to accept it. Cas knows that there can never be more. He knows that Dean doesn't want him like that. And it's fine, he tells himself. It's fine because as long as Dean is happy, so is Cas.

Yes, he knows he's never going to get what he truly craves.

And still, Cas loves him. It's nothing he can simply stop just because he knows it has no future. The pointlessness of it sometimes threatens to overwhelm him, but then he'd get to meet those green eyes again, a rare smile, an affectionate mumble of his name, maybe even a pat on the shoulder - and he knows it isn't pointless at all. Even if nothing ever comes of it. Cas knows Dean loves him, too. Maybe not quite the way Cas feels, but in his own way, he does. And yes, it's fine.

Someone can be madly in love and still not be ready. They could love in a way they had never loved before and be afraid of it. It's alright to love someone who doesn't love you back, or maybe just can't. As long as they're worth you loving them. As long as they deserve it. And Cas couldn't imagine a single person more deserving of love than Dean Winchester.

So he'd just keep loving him, not hoping for anything in return (well, hoping, perhaps, but not expecting), delighting in the thought that it might bring a spark of light to Dean's life.

Let me love you. I'll be content loving you from afar. Just let me love you until you learn to love yourself. And then even beyond that.

Many years have passed like that already, with Cas trying to give in every way he knows how, praying it won't be rejected. In return, he lives on moments, words, gestures. He's learned to read them, learned to see the love written in between the lines.

He can go back to that. Right?

On the way back to the bunker, he watches Dean throw a stick for Miracle, scratching the dog's fuzzy head when he brings it back. Dean smiles. And Cas smiles, too.

It will be enough, he tells himself, over and over.

"Come on, buddy. Let's go home", Dean says and Cas can't be sure who he's talking to.

It will be enough, he tells himself, as often as it takes to believe it.

Dean looks at him with sparkling eyes and Cas feels an ache so deep it's become a part of his very being.

It will be enough, he tells himself. It will have to be.

Chapter Text

Cas is sitting on his bed reading Sense & Sensibility when he hears it.

Well, hears it might not quite cover it. He feels it. Something reaching for him. A longing. A call.

Can you feel a call? It's so tangible it almost seems to actually form a sound.

Cas.

The clock on his bedside table tells him that it's 2:30 at night and Cas sits up straighter, lets the book fall close in his lap with his thumb inside, marking the page. He listens, which means he reaches out with his grace, gropes for the feeling. 

Cas. Cas, please.

It's familiar. He knows that feeling. It has a warm undertone he knows all too well, but right now, it's heavier than he's used to, laced with fear and desperation. Dean.

Cas, please, don't. 

He's on his feet before he's even made the decision to move. The book lies forgotten on his mattress. Cas grabs the trenchcoat that's draped over a chair in passing, throws it over his pyjamas while he flies through the door. His bare feet echo loudly on the tiles as he hurries through the darkness. He doesn't care to switch the light on. His feet would know the way blindfolded. 

When his hand finds the door handle a few seconds later, he doesn't even knock. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Dean awakes from his dream with a start. He's panting, his hairline feels a bit sweaty and his covers are twisted around his ankles. He takes a few moments to just sit and bring his mind to terms with his body, to draw his conscience back into reality from where it's still half-stuck in the realm of sleep. He closes his eyes, concentrates on the welcome darkness that chases the pictures away, black replacing hard blue eyes, a turned back, a door falling shut. 

It's not real. He's here, in his room, just a few feet away. Dean breathes out through his mouth and feels in relief how his heart rate begins to slow down.

He's used to nightmares. His life's served him with more than enough material for those. There was Hell, purgatory, the death of loved ones, the death of countless people he hadn't known and hadn't been able to save. Visions above visions of horrible scenes he's actually seen play out in front of him and that he's spent years living through again and again at night.

Then, there's the shit his mind comes up with by itself. As if reality doesn't have enough in store already. His imagination might be even worse. He's used to dreaming about Sammy dying in multiple ways -Dean being too late when he goes through the trials to close the gates of Hell, Sammy making a stupid deal to save him, Dean having to take him out because they failed to get his soul back from the cage.

He's used to dreaming about Cas by now, too. A few weeks ago, it had always been the Empty taking him, night after night after night. 

Today is new. 

Today is worse.

He barely has time to order his sheets and wipe the moisture from his brow when the door's practically ripped open. There's no light streaming in from the corridor and the figure standing in the doorway is just a blurry shadow before the door falls shut again.

"Dean."

The voice is unmistakable, though. He blinks and Cas is standing next to his bed, he can see him better up close, blue eyes wide and frightened, a deep furrow in his brow.

"Cas? What are you doing here?"

Dean switches the lamp on his nightstand on, blinks into the sudden brightness.

"I-I..." Cas tenses a little, squirms on his feet in a mixture of concern and what seems to be slight embarrassment. "I...followed your call."

"My what?" Shit. Had he been talking in his sleep? Please, no, for the love of-

"I could feel you calling for me", Cas explains and Dean relaxes a little. Feel. That's bad enough, but still better than hear.

"Ah." Words are a little rare right now. His brain doesn't feel quite awake yet. "Okay..."

"I didn't mean to intrude", Cas continues, now obviously embarrassed. "I just wanted to check if you're alright."

"That's fine." Dean heaves himself up against the headboard, rubs his tired eyes. "That was..." Nice? Kind? What a good friend would do? Whatever. "Thanks, Cas."

Cas sways back and forth on his feet a little, a smile blooming in the corner of his mouth. God, he's fucking adorable and Dean loves him so much it hurts.

"So...you're alright?"

"Yeah, Cas, I'm good. Just a dream."

"Oh." Cas looks at his feet and Dean's face heats up a little as he asks himself if Cas has connected the dots, if he wonders if the dream included him. Y'know, with that...call he'd apparently done and shit. It's hardly the first time Dean has prayed to Cas. It's the first time he's been told he also does it unconsciously.

I prayed to you every night.

But Cas doesn't ask, just stands next to his bed a little awkwardly. Dean feels the urge to look at him, to soak up that energy of shyness and concern that tells him this Cas worries about him, cares about him. 

"I should probably...head back. Let you sleep." Cas nods towards the door, hesitantly starts to retreat. He graces him with another smile. "Good night, Dean."

Dean watches helplessly how the angel turns around, makes his way through the room. He wants to open his mouth, but finds the words stuck in his throat. He doesn't want to see him walk through the door, not again. He doesn't want to be reminded of the pictures in his dream. He doesn't want to be left alone with the memories. He doesn't want to be left alone at all. 

"C-Cas." His voice sounds a bit sore, his tongue stumbling over the name he has to press out. "Cas, wait."

The angel turns with his hand on the doorhandle, tilts his head at him. (Damn, that head tilt.) Then understanding flashes over Cas' face and he smiles compassionately. 

"Oh, right. Would you like me to take your dreams from you?", he asks, and Dean is tempted to take him up on the offer, take the easy way, the normal this-is-what-we-do way. But it's not what he wants.

"No, actually, I..." Dean curses the heat he can feel creeping up his cheeks, prays it doesn't show. "I think I'm gonna stay awake for a bit. And I was wondering if you...ah." He swallows, takes a deep breath. "Would you like to stay?", he then blurts out before he can think better of it, licks his lips. "H-Here, I mean. Right now? With...with me?" He panics slightly when he sees Cas' eyes widen in surprise and he knows it's too late to row back now, tries nevertheless. "Maybe we could talk or...I dunno." Dean shrugs his shoulders, attempts to appear light-hearted, casual, as if this was nothing out of the ordinary. "But only if you want to, you don't have to, obviously-"

"Of course." Cas interrupts him softly, a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. "Yes, I...I'd like that."

"G-Great." Dean releases a breath, can hardly believe his luck when he watches Cas crossing the room again, towards him, towards his bed, where he comes to stand and looks around, obviously unsure how to proceed. There's a chair in the corner, covered in clothes Dean had ditched on it at the end of the day. Cas looks at it for a long moment, takes a step towards it, throws a questioning glance at Dean.

"Should I...?"

"Ah, screw that, come on." Dean pats the other side of his bed in a surge of recklessness he hadn't known he had in him. "But lose the coat, dude. And please, for the love of God, don't ever put it over PJs again." He has just now realised what Cas is wearing. He's ridiculous and Dean loves him so much he doesn't know what to do with himself. The coat is hanging over a pair of baggy cotton pyjamas, sky-blue with a bee print. Dean had gotten those for him. It had been a Christmas present. 

I don't sleep, Dean, Cas had pointed out quite unnecessarily. 
And? Dean had pushed them back in Cas' hand. You can't wear that suit and coat 24/7. Pull the stick out of your ass, Cas. They're comfy. Just take them. You don't have to wear them if you don't want to. 

He wears them. He wears them now and something warm spreads in Dean's chest. (There had been a second pair in the pack, green with honey-pots. It's residing somewhere in the depths of Dean's drawers right now, secretive and unworn, and definitely only because green is a much better colour on him, and definitely not because the thought of him and Cas owning matching pyjamas makes something in Dean go mental.)

"Sure, Dean." Cas shrugs out of the coat and places it on the same chair that's already loaded with Dean's clothes, and no, that picture doesn't do things to Dean's gut at all. He turns back to the bed and looks at it like it's gonna eat him alive, drawing a smirk from Dean when he awkwardly climbs on. 

Dean loves it when Cas does human things awkwardly. For one, it's fucking adorable (even though Dean would never ever have admitted that out loud to anyone.) But mostly, it's a reminder that Cas doesn't know how to be human because he simply isn't human. He's an angel, a fucking angel, and still he's here, out of heaven, out of his element, and it's all for Dean. Cas is here because he chose to be here, with him. At least that's what Dean likes to tell himself in the secrecy of that place in his mind where he keeps all the pretty little lies, wrapped in bows to mask them as truths even to himself.

Cas is Dean's human credential. If he stays, there must be something good about him left, right?

He can't help but smile to himself now, looking at the angel sitting on his bed, on the covers. Cas' back is straight against the headboard, hands folded in his lap, eyes lowered.

"You serious?" Dean crooks an eyebrow at him, can't hold back the amused smirk at Cas' confused face when he looks at him.

"What?"

"I ain't bitin', man." Cas tilts his head, again.

"That scenario hadn't crossed my mind", he says, completely serious, and Dean snorts. 

"Then what, you afraid of accidentally touching me, Cas?" He said it jokingly, but as soon as the words leave his mouth, he can't deny the cold knot in his gut. "'Cause we can build a frickin' pillow wall if you want."

"Of course not, Dean." Cas sounds a bit smaller than before, but he doesn't avert his eyes. "I'm not...afraid to touch you."

Relief floods Dean, much more than would probably be appropriate. Let's not think too closely about the Why here, shall we. 

"Then come on, get under there." He tugs at the covers that are stuck under Cas' thighs. (Oh fuck, Cas' thighs.) "Don't want you gettin' cold", he says like an idiot and Cas squints his eyes.

"I don't experience the cold the way you do, Dean." 

I know that. That's not what I'm getting at, genius. 

"Yeah, whatever." He gestures in the angel's general direction, captures the length of him with an awkward wave of his hand. "This? This is weird, so..."

"Weird? In what way?" Jesus, Cas...

"Cas." Dean sighs in exasperation. "Just get under the damn covers."

The angel looks at him for a moment, that typical unreadable Cas-face, squinted eyes and head-tilt that Dean has long given up pretending doesn't drive him crazy. He feels scrutinized, but can't look away, his tongue darting out to unconsciously wet his lips. For a second he almost thinks Cas' eyes may have flitted down to his mouth, but he quickly dismisses the thought as a game of his imagination. The blue eyes blink, and the moment is over.

Cas stands without a word, pulls the blanket back and slides back into bed. He throws a quick glance at Dean once he's settled down, gives him a wry smile. 

It occurs to Dean then that maybe he didn't think this through. Because now Cas is next to him in his bed, and Dean is wearing nothing but an old grey shirt and a pair of boxers. No, he certainly didn't think this through. He should know himself better, shouldn't he, should know that the mere sight of the angel so close and under his goddamn blanket would make the possesiveness he's not entitled to feel stick her head out of the box he tries to lock her in. Not to talk about the fact that his dick has no goddamn chill around Cas. But this is neither the time nor place. Wait, actually, this kinda is the place- For fuck's sake, Dean, pull yourself together!

He looks over at Cas, at the innocent smile, the shy way his eyes are lowered. 

Nope. Definitely not the time or place. Or person. He's gonna behave. He's gonna enjoy what he's been given here, even though he has no fucking clue why he'd gotten so lucky. Cas is here. Cas is here.

It's a bit awkward, the same kind of awkward that had been lying over the room ever since Dean asked him to stay, and still, it's not uncomfortable. Cas looks right there. Dean scolds himself for the thought. But he can't shrug the feeling nevertheless. 

"Thank you." Dean had meant for it to come out as teasing, but his voice fails him, and it sounds broken and shaky instead. He can't tell if Cas noticed. His blue eyes are glued to the covers, the covers they're suddenly sharing, and he lets his hand glide over the flannel. Dean wonders if it's a conscious movement or if the angel is just lost in thoughts. 

"So you...don't want to talk about it, I suppose?", Cas says after a while, gaze on his fingers that are slightly grasping at the fabric they're placed on. "I mean you don't have to. Just...if you wanted. You could tell me, you know."

Dean swallows. Here we go. 

"Yeah." He mirrors Cas' position, looks down and pretends to concentrate on playing with the blanket. "Yeah, Cas, I know. Thanks. But I don't...don't even remember it."

It's a lie. Of course it's a lie. Dean wonders if Cas knows it's a lie.

"Okay." Cas nods, voice soft and understanding. 

Dean wants to remember the sound of his voice like that the way he remembers everything in his dream. 

It hasn't been the usual scenario. Some case gone sideways, some supernatural power they couldn't defeat, some End of The World crap they couldn't stop. Usually, it's something else that takes his loved ones from him. This time, Cas had chosen to leave. 

Why should I waste my time here, Dean?, Dream-Cas had asked, jaw tight and eyes sparkling angrily. Dean had known that what he actually meant was 'Why should I waste my time with you'. He remembers that it had felt wrong to him, even asleep. Something telling him that this couldn't be real, because Cas would never do this, say these things. Not his Cas. But the anger and disappointment on that beautiful face had been so intense, his words -despite the sense of wrongness- sounded so true. 

The face that looks at him right now is nothing like that at all, just full of kindness and concern.

I have no wish to go anywhere else, Dean, this Cas -his Cas- has told him on that bench.

No one appreciates me here, the wrong Cas had said coldly. I deserve better than this. I don't know why I've bothered with this for so long. Dean had begged. He had begged and hadn't given a shit. He had cried, he had pleaded, he had kneeled on the floor. But Cas was unrelenting how he hovered above Dean, eyes filled with pity and disgust. 

The eyes directed at him now are all softness and warmth.

Look at you, it echoes in Dean's ears, Now you pretend to care about me. Now that you're about to lose something that could be useful to you. Well, guess what. I'm not your little play thing that you can just pull out and discard however you please. You don't own me, Dean. And off he went, trenchcoat ripped mercilessly out of Dean's grip, leaving him on the floor with nothing but the eachoing of the heavy bunker door as it fell shut behind him for the last time.

This time, nothing had taken Cas from him, nothing but Dean himself. This time, Cas had chosen to leave. This time, Cas had wanted to leave. 

And it's worse. So much worse. 

"Cas." The words flood out of his mouth before he can stop them. He isn't sure he wants to. He doesn't even care how desperate and pathetic he sounds. "I hope you know that..we want you here. With us." With me. 

I want you to be here with me. I want you to be with me. (Happiness is in being.) 

Cas' head snaps up at that, wide eyes settling on Dean's face, mouth slightly open.

"Of course, Dean." His voice is soft yet firm, his brow furrowed. "Why would you-" He breaks off, a realization lighting up in his eyes and turning the frown of surprise in one of concern. "Does this have to do with-?"

"No", Dean lies too hurriedly. He doesn't have to ask what Cas means. "I dunno. It was just that I...I want you to feel at home here, Cas." He doesn't just want Cas to be here. He wants Cas to want to be here. "Because it is. Your home. As much as it's Sam's and mine and.....if- if you want that too, then..." Dean trails off, prepares to finally say the word he'd held back for so long.

"Stay", he breathes out then, asks. And it's easy, liberating. "Please, stay. For as long as you want to, as long as you want..." MeFor as long as you want me.

"Dean." Cas looks at him intensely, stares almost, but it isn't uncomfortable, they do this all the time. "I'm not going anywhere", he says, confused yet sincere. "I told you, I have no wish to leave. And I won't."

Dean sees how Cas' hands clench where they're neatly placed on the blanket. He knows that clench. He's done the same countless times around Cas. He's done it to keep himself from reaching out, from touching, from taking. Because he knows, if he was given a finger, he'd take the whole arm. It's strange though, seeing Cas do it, because why would he. Why would he want to take? What would he want to take? There's nothing Dean has to give. Nothing worth taking, not to anyone, certainly not to Cas. So why would Cas do that? There's no purpose. There's no need, either. Because Dean also knows, if Cas found anything he wanted, there's nothing he wouldn't allow to be taken, nothing that he wouldn't want to give. A finger, an arm, his whole body. Everything. Anything. Those fists, they're clenching around futility, holding onto a lie they've both been telling far too long - to themselves as much as each other.

"Promise." He can't stop himself. He's lost him too many times. Too late, he registers what he's actually asking here, realizes what he's demanding. 

No. Stop. You can't do that. Don't let him answer. 

"Sorry." Dean shakes his head, curses himself under his breath. "That wasn't- I had no right to ask that-"

"I promise." Cas' voice is steady and sure. Dean feels like falling apart.

"Wha- Really?"

"Dean." And finally, the angel's hand reaches out to lightly settle over Dean's. The hunter stares at it for a second, his brain failing to catch up with what's happening. But he can't look for long. He has to look at Cas' face again, he has to. "I promise", Cas repeats and there's no hesitation, no uncertainty, just a smile. 

Everything in Dean's mind screams at him to tell Cas not to. 

Don't. You shouldn't. You mustn't. Don't make promises you can't keep. Don't make promises you shouldn't keep. It's not worth it. I'm not worth it. 

But he can't rip his gaze away from the blue eyes, can't ignore the warmth of fingers curling reassuringly around his own. 

He swallows.

"Okay."

~oOo~

They start talking. They talk about whatever comes to their mind. And it's easy. It's wonderful. 

They talk about Sam and Eileen, how happy they seem, how happy they are for them. (Dean doesn't mention the jealousy that has buried its ugly teeth in that happiness. He knows he's not entitled. He knows it's not fair to them. He promises himself that none of them will ever notice.) They make fun of how Sam looks like a love-sick puppy whenever he looks at her and Cas laughs, unaware that Dean is directing the same sort of look at him. They talk about Jack and what they think Heaven might look like now. They tell each other stories about the kid and smile. They laugh together and for the first time in weeks, maybe months, Cas feels at ease.

At some point around two hours later, he notices Dean getting quieter, his yawns become more frequent, but every time Cas offers to leave, Dean holds him back.

And finally, he's asleep, and Cas is still there. 

He knows he should leave, he knows he should. But he doesn't want to. He's always enjoyed watching Dean in his sleep, and even though the hunter told him not to, he can't just let such an opportunity pass by. Then there's also the fact that Dean has fallen asleep with his head on Cas' shoulder. He has no choice but to stay, right? Right?

During the next half-hour, Cas indulges. He looks unabashedly, shamelessly, lets himself get lost in the sight of Dean's peaceful features, the feeling of his warm body so close. He's gradually slipped lower so his head is nestled in the crook of Cas' arm now and the angel's fingers twitch with the want to bury in his hair.

For another half-hour, he resists. It's only when Dean starts to shift in his sleep that Cas finally cracks. He listens to Dean murmuring under his breath, something Cas almost thinks might be his name, and for the millionth time that night, he wonders if Dean had actually been dreaming about him earlier. It's only then, seeing him writhe in unease, that Cas gives into the surge of recklessness and lets his hand settle on Dean's head. It's a bold move, he knows, what if Dean wakes up and finds him like this? He's probably gonna ask Cas what the fuck he thinks he's doing, everything this night achieved might be ruined. But Dean's hair is impossibly soft under his fingers and Dean's breathing calms more with every stroke of Cas' hand, and he can't stop himself. 

Until Dean twitches and slowly opens one of his eyes. Cas tenses in shock, swiftly withdraws his fingers, but it's too late.

"Did you- Did you just have your fingers in my hair?" He sounds sleepy, just one eye popped open from where he's tucked into Cas' side. Cas doesn't have enough time or mental capacity to notice that he isn't freaking out about their current position.

"S-Sorry", he says, the first thing that comes to his mind. "I-I...I didn't know you were- And I thought- You were restless and I thought it would calm you." He bites his lip. "I'm sorry, Dean, I shouldn't have-"

But Dean hums and nuzzles into Cas' side and the angel freezes.

"Do it...do it again?", Dean mumbles, eyes fluttering shut.

"Really?" Cas isn't sure what to make of this. Dean is obviously still half-asleep and doesn't know what he's saying or doing. Is he taking advantage when he just...lets him? Is this wrong? Will Dean remember in the morning and hate him for using him like this? Will he-

"Yeah. Kinda nice", Dean slurs with his eyes closed, shattering the last of Cas' determination to stop him. "But only if you don't mind..."

"I don't mind at all", Cas whispers in wonder, but Dean doesn't hear him. He's already fallen asleep again.

Cas leans his head back against the headboard, takes a deep breath. He's surrounded by the feeling of Dean, his hand in his hair, the nose pressed in his side, a foot that searches for warmth. And maybe it's all those overwhelming sensations that make him stupid and reckless, but once he's absolutely sure Dean is deep in sleep once more, Cas takes one more leap of faith and leans down to press a kiss to Dean's forehead. To his surprise, Dean hums in his sleep, unconsciously writhing to lean into the touch. Cas smiles. It's not the first time he notices. He's felt it before, this reluctance to let go, a look that lasted longer than was strictly appropriate, the warmth of a hand that kept holding onto his for a few seconds longer than would have been necessary. And that sense of longing, the one that had called him to Dean's room tonight, the one he can feel now, quieter and happier, the one he'd felt countless times before, toned-down and held-back.

Back then, he'd never thought, never dared to hope it could be a sign that Dean feels those things too, those things Cas hadn't properly understood before he spent some time as a human and was faced with the full, terrifying, beautiful force of it all. He still doesn't dare believe it now, but at this moment, he can't deny the tiny spark of hope that takes root in his heart.

Cas knows it well himself, that pressing need to touch, to be close, to keep something that threatens to slip through his fingers like running sand. It had frightened him, the first time he felt it, the newness of emotion, the unexpected intensity, the unfamiliar want of another being's presence - just this particular one, so much stronger and different from the general love for creation he'd been taught to feel.

He wonders if it would get better if he could just follow those needs, just reach out and touch when he desires to do so instead of the desperation that comes with fighting those urges. It would be incredibly liberating, the knowledge that he's actually allowed to, that his attentions are not only tolerated but wanted. It's a wondrous thing to him, Dean wanting him back that way - in any way, really. So it's no surprise that every sign of Dean's appreciation for Cas' touch fills the angel with a fuzzy warm sensation, and may it just be this sleep-driven search for comfort. It's one of the reasons he enjoys watching Dean sleep so much. The lack of restriction that comes with unconsciousness, the freedom of showing desires that the hunter keeps so carefully hidden, even denies their existence, in the realm of waking control. Cas revels in those moments when Dean lets his guard down like this (even more so when he does it consciously - but Cas would take what he could get) and he would never tire of using such moments to shower him with as many gentle, loving touches as he can. 

He allows himself a moment to indulge in the fantasy that he actually could. Dean deserves it. He deserves to be touched and treated like the valuable, precious thing that he is, the way Cas knows Dean refuses to believe he is worthy of, even if he can't help to dream of it. 

As if on cue, Dean rolls over in his sleep and wraps his arm around Cas, pulling him closer. Cas knows he isn't aware of what he's doing, and for a second he freezes, but then he simply can't help but melt into the mattress. This is what he wants. This is what truly feels like home. 

And for the first time since he'd been created, Castiel thinks that he might become quite fond of the concept of sleeping himself.  

~oOo~

When Dean wakes up from a dreamless sleep the next morning, Cas will be gone, the left side of his bed will be empty and cold, and the vague images of someone warm and comforting in his arms will be dismissed as wishful thinking.

Chapter Text

"You sure you don't want us to take him, Cas?"

Sam looks doubtfully between Cas and the dog lying in a corner of the library. Cas has never been alone with Miracle until now, that's why Sam had offered to look after him in the first place.

"Thank you, Sam. But I'm sure I will be fine." Cas smiles at him encouragingly. "You two go and have a nice time together."

Sam hesitates. It would be nice to go on a date without any distractions. And Miracle is asleep. And Dean should be back soon, anyway... He throws a questioning glance at Eileen standing by his side and she shrugs her shoulders, apparently going through the same considerations. 

"If you're sure, I guess..." Sam looks at Miracle again, calm and peaceful on the floor and decides that it can't hurt. Cas has been around for the creation of the world, he should be able to look after a dog for a few hours, right? "Yeah", Sam says, slowly nodding his head, "thanks, Cas."

"You're welcome." 

Sam smiles gratefully at him before he grabs Eileen's hand and they make their way up the stairs.

"Oh, and Cas?", he calls down once they reach the door, unable to hide the smirk on his face, "You and Dean don't stay up for us. Might get late." He grins when Eileen playfully slaps him on the shoulder and exchanges another meaningful look with Cas, who's sat down on the chair closest to Miracle.

"Hey, buddy", Sam hears the angel's voice just as he's about to close the door. "We're gonna have a great time too, won't we?"

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

It's when Dean drives home from his shopping trip that he realizes it. 

He feels good. He feels good

Sammy and Eileen are on a date this evening, which they had announced with smiles on their faces. And as Dean had been out for several purchases they had to make, Sammy had said they'd take Miracle. Meaning Dean would get to be alone with Cas. A few days ago, that prospect would have twisted his stomach, but now that they're on friendly terms again, he's really looking forward to it. Not that his stomach is calm, but the fluttering is one of nervous excitement rather than dread. 

Today is a good day. His family is happy. And he's gonna make sure to have a nice evening with Cas, no drama, no fighting, no arguing, no stupid feeling getting in the way (hahaha, ok, maybe not this one), just a nice calm evening with his best friend. Who he's friends with. Like...friendly. Y'know. 

Yeah, friendly friends time with his best friend Cas. 

Dean can make dinner and Cas will say he doesn't eat, but then he'll try it anyway when Dean places a plate in front of him, and he'll pretend to like it for Dean's sake, and Dean will feel that sense of pride he always feels when Cas does something to make him happy. Cas does that sometimes. Dean can't say he doesn't notice. But it's nothing to read anything into. Cas is just being his friend. Friends want to see each other happy, right?

Maybe they'll watch a movie or something. They haven't done that in a long time. Too long. Dean has tried to watch some lately, tried to distract himself, but the Deancave seems too empty without the others there and watching something just with Sammy felt weird for some reason. He's used to having the three of them there. Dean won't think about why the thought of watching something alone with Cas doesn't feel weird at all. He's not gonna think about the intimacy of sitting on the same couch either, sharing a bowl of popcorn (that once again - Cas will only pick at to please Dean), the room dark around them, with only the flickering lights from the screen illuminating their faces. He's not gonna think about how easy it will be to sit a little too close, to accidentally touch Cas' hand when he passes the bowl. He's not gonna think about it. Which doesn't mean he's not gonna do it. He just won't think about it now. 

Now, he just concentrates on the road, on the familiar and comforting sound of Baby's motor, on the fact that with every passing second, she's bringing him closer to home, closer to...

Dean smiles and drives just a little faster. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Cas looks up from his book when he hears the dog whimper. He'd been lying next to Cas' chair, but has grown increasingly restless over the last half hour. When Cas puts Jane Austen aside, Miracle jumps to his feet, looking at him expectantly. 

"What is it, buddy?"

Miracle runs to the staircase, looks at the door of the bunker before directing his gaze back at Cas and whimpers again. Cas throws a glance at the clock on the wall. It's been hours since Sam and Eileen left, he realises, wrinkling his brow. Dean should have been back by now, shouldn't he? His first instinct is to worry, but he knows it won't do any good. Maybe he'd simply needed longer than anticipated. Maybe the stores had been crowded. Maybe he had to refuel the Impala. Maybe he's stuck in traffic.

Whatever it is, he's not here, and Miracle is still looking up at Cas like that. He doesn't have to wonder where the expression 'puppy eyes' comes from as the dog's gaze flits between the angel and the door.

"You need to be let out, don't you?", Cas asks the dog, who wags his tail when he gets up and makes his way up the stairs.

The sun feels nice on his skin when he steps outside and he watches with a smile how Miracle excitedly sniffs around in the grass. It reminds him of the day he'd gone out on the walk with Dean, the warm air moving the trees above them, the smell of earth, growth and life filling their noses. He can see the picture of Dean before his inner eye, smiling and peaceful. 

He'd looked peaceful that night, too, the night a few days ago when he had watched him in his sleep. Dean hasn't said a word about it. Maybe he doesn't remember. Maybe he doesn't want to remember.

Would he regret it, Cas asks himself, if he remembered? Would he regret asking Cas to stay? Stay that night, stay at the bunker, stay in his life. It's something Cas has long been yearning for, being asked to stay. His heart had sped up in his chest when Dean uttered that little word. Despite all the times Cas failed him, Dean asked him to stay. Despite all the things Cas forced on him, the day Billie died, Dean still asked him to stay. Sure, Cas had the best intentions at that moment, but he'd never expected them to have to deal with the repercussions now. Dean already has such a heavy burden to carry. Cas had never wanted to be one of them. He never wanted to add to the weight on Dean's shoulders. 

He feels selfish now, loading all of his heart on Dean, to know and to ignore. He feels selfish for stealing those moments, like the night he stayed, even knowing Dean wouldn't have wanted him to. He feels selfish for wanting to have such a moment again, and again and again and again. He feels selfish for not being satisfied with what Dean wants to give, and he's given so much more in the last couple of days than Cas could have asked for. 

And still, he wants more. The heart is a hungry traitor. 

When he finds his way back out of his thoughts, the patch of grass is empty, and Miracle is nowhere to be seen.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Dean closes the door of the bunker with his back and hurries down the stairs with a light step to his feet. He's not surprised to find the library to be deserted and goes to dump the bags he's carrying on the kitchen table. Sam and Eileen should be gone by now and Cas spends most of his time alone reading in his room, so that's where Dean's feet lead him automatically. He doesn't bother knocking, opens the door with a smile on his face - and feels it falling when he's met with nothing but an empty bed. 

"Cas?" He sticks his head out of the room and looks down both directions of the corridor. Nothing. No angel in sight. No answer either. 

That's strange. But well. Maybe the guy's taking a shower or whatever. Not that he needs to do that, but Cas had taken up some habits since he'd been human, and who's Dean to argue against the advantages of a nice hot shower? 

There's no sound of water coming from the bathroom when he gets there though, and Dean feels his feet picking up their pace as he starts checking one room after another. 

"Cas?" No one in his room, the training room, the Deancave. 

"Cas?!" He even looks in Sammy's room, even though he can think of no reason whatsoever why Cas should be in there. (Not that he has any reason to be in Dean's room, either, and it had been pure coincidence that he'd checked there first. Really.) 

"Cas!" He doesn't like the way his voice gets louder, pitched higher. He doesn't like the way his chest contracts, the way he finds it increasingly harder to breathe with every empty room he comes across. He doesn't like the feeling of panic he can't seem to swallow, no matter how much he tries. 

"Son of a bitch", he curses under his breath as he hurries down the umpteenth corridor. He reluctantly brings himself to throw a glance at the dungeon. He hasn't been here, not since that day. It's just as empty as he feared. His throat tightens and he makes quick move to get away.

"Where the hell is he?"

He knows he's being irrational. (He's not. He's lost too many people, he's watched too many people leaving him, he's watched Cas leaving him too many times...)

He doesn't know what happened. Maybe Cas has just taken a walk. Maybe something has come up. Maybe he's just in a part of the bunker where he can't hear Dean calling. The space is much larger than it seems. Maybe he overlooked something. He's almost sure they still haven't even discovered every room attached. Maybe his worry is needless. He doesn't know. But that's sort of the problem. He doesn't know. 

Cas? He's praying now. He hadn't intended it. Where are you, man? Cas? If you can hear me, wherever you are, come home.

The thought, the prayer, is out there before he can grasp for the words and pull them back. Fuck. He hadn't meant for it to sound like that. So needy, so demanding. It's probably nothing and now Dean sounds like some sort of clingy idiot. But what if it isn't nothing? Because what should have come up, anyway? Cas doesn't know anyone else around here and if one of their friends would have come by, he would have invited them in. What if something had happened to Sam or Eileen? No, then one of them had surely called him by now. 

Actually, while we're at it...Couldn't Cas have just fucking called him if he'd had to go out? Not that he's Cas' babysitter or anything. Not that Cas needs to inform Dean of every step he takes.

But...urgh, well. He doesn't have a good reason. Just...but.

You don't own me, Dean. Yeah, yeah, he knows. He damn well knows. And he's no controlling psychopath or anything, ok? He's just worried about his family's safety, that's all. That's normal, right? Cas should be here and he's not. 

He can go wherever he fucking wants. He's his own person, he's a grown-ass man or...angel. Both. Anyway. Point is he has every right to be wherever the hell he is right now, but what would've been so hard about leaving a damn message, huh?

Hey, Dean, I went heaven knows where, I'll be back in an hour. That's not so hard, is it? 

I'll be back. Dean doesn't want to admit to himself that that's the part that worries him the most. Vanishing without a word or any apparent reason does kinda make sense when you don't plan on coming back. Dean forces the thought down into the dark pit it came from. He's ashamed he even allowed it emerge. He shouldn't question Cas like that. 

He'd said he wouldn't leave. He'd promised

He's gonna be back. He's gonna be back and it will all turn out to be a stupid misunderstanding. He miscalculated time. He got lost in thoughts watching the bees. He met a wounded animal he needed to heal. Some perfectly reasonable and angelic Cas-crap. 

Dean tries to convince himself and fails miserably, shamefully. He's overreacting and he can't bring himself to stop, his feet to slow down, his breathing to calm, his thoughts to stop racing.

In the end, he finds himself back in the library, panting and sweaty and with a mind that's unable to form a single clear thought except for the one.

Cas is gone.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Cas?

Cas is about to make his way around the lake for the second time when he receives the prayer. He stops in his tracks, listens to Dean's voice in his head. Where are you, man? Cas?  He sounds tense. Nothing happened to him, did it? Nothing worse than Cas losing his beloved dog, that is. If you can hear me, wherever you are, come home. 

Come home. Cas sighs. He's searched everywhere. He looked beneath bushes and behind trees and every place he could think of, but Miracle is nowhere to be found. He can't go back like that, can he? Dean loves that dog, how can he appear under his eyes and admit that he's a stupid thoughtless fool that didn't look properly after something Dean loves? And Miracle is not just something. He's a living, breathing being, a part of his father's creation, and Chuck being a colossal dick doesn't make the world he brought to life any less beautiful. If he doesn't find the dog, if something happens to him...

But it's useless to continue his fruitless search now. He has no idea how to go on, where else to look, what else to try. He called his name and checked everywhere he could think of, twice, he's worried and frustrated and exhausted and angry with himself. 

And Dean, Dean is back at the bunker. Dean has prayed to him. Dean sounds agitated.

Come home. 

Resigned, Cas does. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"Cas!" The name leaves Dean's lips in a breath of relief, almost sickening in its intensity at the sight of a familiar trenchcoat appearing at the top of the stairs. The angel makes his way down and looks at Dean, attempting a smile. 

"Hey."

No hello, Dean, it shoots through Dean's head. What's wrong? Is there something wrong? But there's no time for that right now. Hug first. His body moves of its own when he steps forward and pulls Cas tightly against him, soaking in the solid warmth in his arms. The angel is stiff for a moment before he relaxes a little, hesitantly placing his arms on the hunter's back in return. He feels reserved, Dean can't help but think, it's not the same way it usually is, with the two of them basically melting into each other's touch. Not that Dean has studied their hug-development over the years or anything. Haha. Yeah. No. Anyway. 

Cas is here! That's all that counts.

"Don't ever do that again", he says to Cas' neck, not caring that some of his previous worry and anger seep into his voice. He tightens his hold one more time before letting go to look Cas in the eye. (Only to make sure he got the order, ok? Not to make sure he's fine. Definitely not to drown in the blue for a moment.)

"Alright." Cas agrees without hesitation, looking puzzled. "Do what?", he asks then and tilts his head, making Dean huff. (Exasperated, not fond. Yep.) 

"Just wander off to God knows where!", he says, lifting his hands for that bit of dramatic flavour. "I came home and you were gone, Cas. No call, no text, no note, I didn't know where you were or if something had happened-"

Cas squints his eyes together, head still tilted like that, and the sight makes the words get stuck in his throat. He breaks off, just keeps looking at Cas, breathes.

"You were worried", the angel states. It's not a question, but it's strained with surprise, and the fact that Cas just says it like that, says it out loud, calls him out like that even though it surely must have been obvious-

"Yeah", he says, caught off guard, "I- I mean...yeah, I was."

Cas' eyes go impossibly soft at that, a little smile at the corner of his mouth. How does he look happy and sad at the same time? 

"I'm sorry, Dean. That was not my intention."

"I know." Dean swallows. This isn't good. This is far from safe territory. This runs risk to drift off into lovey dovey feely stuff he's not ready for. "Just forget it", he says dismissively. "What matters is that you're here", it slips before he can stop it, and Cas lowers his eyes and blushes, squirming on his feet in what seems like more than his usual shy embarrassment.

"Actually, there is..." He bites his bottom lip and Dean's breath catches in his throat. "Something...something did happen and I-"

"Hold on, what?" Dean snaps out of his trance and into hunter mode in less than a second. "Are you ok? What is it?"

"It doesn't have to do with me, Dean", Cas says soothingly, still unable to look at him, "I mean...yes, it does, but I'm fine."

"Then what?"

Cas presses his lips together, nervously wringing his hands in front of his chest.

"Cas, out with it. What the hell happened?"

"I lost the dog", Cas whispers so quietly Dean almost doesn't catch it.

"You what?"

"I lost the dog, Dean." Cas finally looks up at him and the wide eyes shining with held-back tears hit Dean like a wall of bricks. "I'm so so sorry", Cas hurries to say, his gaze flitting around in the room, hands gesturing wildly. "I told Sam to leave him here so he could have some time alone with Eileen and then when I let him outside, I..." (I got distracted by thinking about you like some irresponsible love-sick fool.) "He was just suddenly gone, and I've been trying to find him, but I couldn't, and I'm so sorry, Dean, I know how much Miracle means to you and I should have looked after him and I-"

Cas trails off, pleading eyes finding Dean again, and the hunter doesn't even understand how such a huge wave of sympathy can roll over anyone. He feels a sting of worry about the dog underneath it, but it's drowned out for the moment, washed away by the fucking ton of relief and fondness and love he has for that angel who directs his own puppy eyes at him.  

"Cas, hey." Dean lightly grips Cas' shoulder, a gesture that could be meant to ground Cas or himself. Maybe both. "Hey. Calm down", he says with a smile he hopes will be reassuring. "I'm sure he'll be fine, ok?"

Cas' eyes go even wider if that's possible, eyebrows shooting up.

"You're not angry with me?"

Oh, that stupid, adorable son of a bitch.

"No, I'm not angry." He squeezes Cas' shoulder and the angel attempts a wavy smile that makes Dean's insides melt just a little bit. He clears his throat and lets his hand fall back to his side. "Look, here's what we're gonna do. We'll go out together and you show me all the places you looked for him. I'm sure we're gonna find him."

"Okay." Cas nods, smiles again. "Thank you, Dean."

"Sure. Come on."

~oOo~

"Miracle! Come here, boy!"

Dean's voice echoes over the lake as Cas follows him on the path he'd taken earlier that day.

"Come on, where are you, buddy? Miracle!"

"Perhaps he got lost", Cas suggests. "I already checked this route twice. Is there anywhere else you think he might go?"

"I dunno." Dean leans down, hands on his knees. "He could've gone anywhere. There's a lot of woods around here, man."

"I know." Cas' voice sounds as small as he feels. "This is my fault. I should have paid closer attention to him, Dean, I- If something happens to him...and it's already starting to get dark-"

"It's not your fault, Cas."

"Then whose it it?"

"Cas-"

"Brilliant", Cas beaks him off before he can defend him any further. "Now it's beginning to rain."

Indeed, the first drops have started to fall around them, making dull splashing sounds on the leaves and the ground. Of course, they're not especially dressed for that sort of weather and the veil of drops is quickly getting denser around them, disturbing the quiet surface of the lake. 

Dean shivers beside him, wearing only his usual shirt and flannel, and without giving it a second thought, Cas shrugs out of his trenchcoat and wraps it around Dean's shoulders. The hunter looks at him from the side and opens his mouth, surely about to object, but the angel gets ahead of him.

"I'll be fine, Dean. My grace keeps me warm." He can already feel it bubbling up to the surface, making his bloodstream send warmth to every corner of his body. He closes his eyes and concentrates on the pleasant feeling for a second, lets himself get lost in the flowing of grace...

And then he feels it. It's quiet and gentle, dimmed and far away, but it's there. The presence of another being. Cas' eyes snap open.

"Dean. Dean, I think I found him."

"What?" Dean furrows his brow. "Miracle?"

"Yes." Cas focuses on the sensation as he speaks, tries to track it down. "I think I can feel him. My grace...wait." And there it is. "Are there some sort of...caves around here?"

"Yeah. Over there." Dean points his finger across the surface of water spreading out in front of them. 

"That's it. Come on."

Cas basically drags Dean forward, following the direction he had pointed him to as well as the path his grace lays out for him. 

"You sure?" Dean clutches at the fabric of the coat around his shoulders. Cas nods. He can feel it getting stronger and it's barely five minutes later that they can hear a faint whimper over the beat of the rain. 

"Miracle?" There's a bark answering Dean, and then there he suddenly is, the long wet fur clinging to the dog's body, a little muddy but otherwise seemingly unharmed. "Hey, buddy", Dean smiles as he leans down to draw his hand through the dripping white mess. Cas smiles in relief. "Come on, let's get out of here."

The way back is long and wet and...yeah, mostly wet, but Cas barely notices. They found Miracle, Dean isn't angry with him and -a fact Cas only now comes to really appreciate with his mind free of worry- Dean is wearing his coat. It makes a wave of possessiveness roll over him, a bit like when Dean still had his handprint engraved on his shoulder, even though that had been kind of an accident. Or so Cas had told himself. Back, back when he'd still been an angel of the lord rather than an angel in love. Now he's not so sure anymore. Perhaps his heart had known something back then that his mind couldn't understand yet. 

He's lost in thoughts until they reach the door, and far too soon he sees Dean shrugging out of the wet clothes. He pushes the coat back in Cas' hand with a grateful smile and aThanks, man, and Cas just nods, mind too blank to answer. He helps Dean towel off the dog before they both leave to change into something dry. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Something dry turns out to be a fresh shirt and a pair of sweatpants for each of them out of Dean's closet. Cas really needs to get more stuff of his own...or maybe not, Dean decides once the angel comes around the corner and steps into Dean's room. Not only is this like the epitome of casualness as opposed to the holy tax accountant look Cas pulls off so very well, the shirt leaves his arms uncovered. Yep, you heard correctly. Dean can see Cas' arms. Which means the guy is practically naked. And that wet, tousled sex hair doesn't really help, either.

Needless to say Dean likes Cas in his clothes. More needless to say Dean likes it a little too much.

He gulps and a shiver runs through his body. He hopes Cas didn't notice. Gladly, the angel seems to be as oblivious as ever.

"Would you like me to warm you up, Dean?" (Okay, maybe he'd seen the shiver after all.)

Dean blinks. He knows Cas didn't mean it like that, those innocent blue eyes have no idea how that just sounded, but it doesn't keep Dean from very not-innocent and very not-welcome ideas to form in his head. (Well, at least not welcome right now...) 

"Y-Yeah", he mutters before his brain has caught up with his mouth. "Thanks, Cas."

The angel smiles and steps closer, close enough to put his fingers against his forehead. It's like a bolt of ice surging through his veins, but only for a second before it merges into warmth that spreads in his whole body. It's just like being healed, and Dean can barely suppress a pleased sigh. The feeling is there as well. The...grace (not Cas!) feeling. At first, he had thought being healed by an angel just sort of comes naturally with a fluttery feeling in your chest. Or that’s what he told himself at least. Because for a long time, that’s been the only time when Cas touched him. Just to heal him. So he could write it off, he could tell himself it’s the angel mojo. All the while deep down he's known it’s just...Cas.

The moment ends far too soon, but just as he thinks Cas is going to pull his hand away, there's a split second during which the angel hesitates, before swiftly drawing his fingers through Dean's hair. It's only then that he finally retreats, the slightest hint of a blush painting his cheeks as Dean stares at him. (Was is the cold? Dean's stare? The fact that he'd been caught? Caugh? Caught doing...what?)

"I just dried your hair", Cas tells him with a little shrug, but it's not the angel's shyness that has Dean gaping at him like an idiot. It's the familiarity of Cas' hand combing through his hair, the memory that hits him at that moment, the memory that he'd written off as fantasy, a construct of his imagination. He opens his mouth, but no words come out, watches as Cas squints his eyes at him, furrows his brow questioningly.

"What?"

"Cas?" Dean swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. "Cas...you...that night you... You were actually there, weren't you? The whole time."

He knows the answer before Cas has said a word, the way his face falls, goes blank and pale in the blink of an eye is confirmation enough.

"Yes", he says nevertheless, biting his lip, "I was. I'm sorry."

He's sorry. The night has been real, Cas has been there, and of all the things he could feel about it, he says he's sorry. Dean's chest contracts painfully and he clenches his hand into a fist. 

"No, I- that's not what I-" Not what I meant. Not what I wanted to hear. What does he want to hear, though? "Cas...", he whispers, shocked by his own breathlessness. "Did you- I don't- I know we haven't...talked about that day and I-"

"That day...", Cas echoes, lets the words hang in the air, heavy with unspoken questions and uncertainty.

That day you stayed in my room, he could say.

"The day...the day Billie died", he hears himself say instead. He's not sure how he got the words out. He's not sure why he spoke them in the first place. He's not sure why he finally leads them here, to this place he has so skillfully avoided for months, this place that's lying full of traps for him to step into and be torn apart.

"Dean, if this is about what I said..." Cas' voice is quiet and cautious, guarded somehow. "Back then...with the- the Empty, and..." He trails off, sighs and closes his eyes for a moment. Dean can't take his own off the angel's face. He's fought demons and werewolves and vampires and creatures most humans can't even imagine, but he doesn't think his heart has ever been beating so fast in his chest, his whole body filled with an all-encompassing fear and longing for whatever Cas is going to say next.

"It's fine", is what he says, and Dean feels his heart drop into a hole of nothingness. "We don't have to talk about it. I understand that you don't wish to discuss it. And there's no need." Cas smiles compassionately. He fucking smiles. "It's...it's good the way it is."

Dean thinks the air has been sucked out of his lungs, out of the room, maybe out of the world.

"Oh." 

It's good the way it is, Cas has said.
I didn't mean what I said then, Dean hears.

"Y-Yeah", he croaks out, mentally slaps himself out of this pathetic shock. He'd known. This doesn't come as a surprise. It shouldn't come as a surprise. "I- good. Yeah, sure."

When he suggests watching a movie together, the forced smile is painful. He doesn't sit a bit too close to Cas on the couch. He doesn't brush his hand over the popcorn. In fact, he doesn't even bother making some.

Chapter Text

He shouldn't be surprised. 

He knows he shouldn't. 

Still, the confirmation hurts. It hurts like a bitch.

He didn't mean it.

He knows he has no right to feel like this. He has no claim on Cas, none. Cas has never been his to lose.

His heart doesn't give a shit.

He's been hiding in his room. Again. He doesn't even find it in himself to care about the patheticness anymore. At least he's not hiding from Cas this time. At least not explicitly. No, this time, it's Sam and Eileen. Great, right? Add another two names to his list of 'People Dean Pathetic Asshole Winchester Fled From'. Only a question of time until his whole family's up there as it seems. Awesome. 

They didn't even do anything. They'd just been happy, telling him about their date.

"It was really educational", Sam had said with a beaming smile. "Stuff even we hadn't seen before, let alone used. Here, I took notes. You never know when it might come in handy." 

"Notes, Sam? Seriously?" Dean had crossed his arms in front of his chest, raising his eyebrows teasingly. "I thought this was supposed to be a date, dude. You can't leave your girl hangin' like that." He protectively wrapped an arm around Eileen's shoulders, marking his point. "And while we're at it - a museum, guys??" His brother was really unbelievable. A fucking museum trip for a date. At least it had been about weaponry and not some art or history bullshit, although he wouldn't scratch that from Sammy's 'perfect romantic location' list, either

"Hey!" Eileen disentangled herself from him with a look of fake offence, pushed him playfully with a warm grin on her face. "It was awesome!" Sam's following grin had been even wider as he welcomed Eileen in his arm instead. 

"Yes, it was." He'd pressed a kiss to her hair that made Dean's heart both warm and ache before Sam's grin grew dirty and he signed in Eileen's direction what Dean read as As was that dark corner we found in the knife section. The way Eileen had blushed and bit back a smirk left no doubt that his sign training hadn't let him down. Though he kinda wished it had. He really did not need to hear that. ...Read. See. Whatever.

"Oookay, that's my cue!", he'd exclaimed dramatically, making his way to the kitchen door.

"Night, guys. Oh and Sam?" His brother had looked back at him with a twinkle still in his eye and Dean had put on his sweetest of smiles. Fuck you, he'd signed and quickly disappeared around the corner. The laughter he heard coming from the kitchen had made him guiltily pick up his pace towards his room that he knew would be empty and lonely. 

Despite all the teasing, he couldn't help but envy them. A museum. They're tooth-rottingly cute and perfect for each other. They're good for each other. They'll probably marry someday and have a beautiful family without any secrets or lies or baggage to drag their relationship down. 

He wishes he could be good for anyone. 

Dean gets up from his bed with a sigh and makes his way to the cabinet where he keeps the really good stuff hidden from Sammy. His fingers are itching to grab a bottle of bourbon and he pours a generous amount of the golden liquid into a glass. There's a pleasant burning when the first sip glides down his throat, the familiar sensation of a quiet pain that will soon overshadow the loud one in his heart if he just keeps drinking. 

Convenient, isn't it. ...? Yeah. How about fucked-up?

He stares at the glass in his hand, lets the liquor sway around. It's been his friend, alcohol. The one thing that doesn't ask questions, doesn't judge. It's merciful. It makes him forget. It makes the feelings go away, if even for just a little while. 

He's about to bring the glass to his lips again when Cas' face pops up in front of his inner eye, blue gaze sad as he looks out over the lake. 

My healing doesn't only take care of external damage, Dean.

And suddenly, just the thought of Cas having to fix his liver again lets him drop his hand, anger boiling up in his gut instead. Next thing he knows is the glass is flying across the room and shatters against the wall, the bottle ditched in the bin where it lies on a pile of trash, staring at him in accusation. 

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Of course Cas didn't mean it. Of course not. Cas couldn't possibly have meant any of those things, those things he's turned over in his head and secretly fed on ever since they left Cas' mouth that day. He should have known better than to keep that tiny spark of hope alive. Look at him. He drinks, he swears, he sleeps around (well he doesn't do that anymore, for no obvious reason at all), he's drowning in guilt and shame and self-hatred, he kills for a living - nothing about him is in any way relationship or -damn him- love material.

Loving me isn't easy. I have sharp edges. I have missing parts. And it takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.

If there's anyone that would be able to see something worthy left in him, it would be Cas. He would tell him that forgiveness is nothing you get because you deserve it...but because you need it. He would tell him that...stars can't shine without darkness or some poetic shit he just randomly comes up with. 

But he shouldn't think about Cas now. Not ever. Especially not without alcohol. Especially not without something drowning out his feelings. He can't do this shit sober. He certainly shouldn't do this shit sober. He doesn't know how to deal with the things inside of him like this, the pain and the rage and the...the...

That's not what he does. He keeps those things in check, keeps them at bay. That's how he deals with it. He just doesn't. And if he lets them lose once...he has no idea how to tie them up again.

If I allow it now...maybe it'll never stop.

And he doesn't think he could bear that, having to feel all the time. It's too much.

He only now realises that his feet are moving, aggressively pacing up and down in his room. Maybe his body is searching ways to release whatever is boiling inside of him. He can't quite pin down what it is, anger, worry, sadness, frustration, a bit of everything. And he can't make it shut up. He can't make his head shut up.

That's sort of his thing, isn't it. Shutting up, swallowing everything, just not talk about it. But this, this...he can't do it. 

Cas, he says to him in his head, this is...unbelievable.

Ever since that day, Dean's had every word the angel said engraved in his memory. He tried to put it off, but it just won't fucking leave him alone. Hell, he'd told him he- You told me you love me. He'd told him all that shit and... That's not something you can just drop in a guy's lap and then let it be swiped under the carpet and never mention it again. Does he have any idea how messed up that is? Jesus-

He forces his feet to stop, channels the energy rushing through him by punching a fist against the wall instead. It feels good. It hurts, but the pain is good. It helps. He does it again. The wall blurs in front of his eyes, only coming into focus again when there's suddenly red staining the white. Shit, he's bleeding. His knuckles, they-

This is a mess. His hand is a mess, and the wall is a mess, and the shattered glass sprinkled with bourbon at his feet is a mess. He is a fucking mess. 

Dean slams his flat hand against the stone, leans his forehead against it, breathes. 

The sound of his panting is loud in the silence of his room, the wall cool against his heated skin. He doesn't know how long he stands there like this, lets the anger flow out of him like the liquor he'd spilt, leaving him with nothing but emptiness. 

It might be even worse, feeling empty. It gives you the illusion that maybe you can fill that emptiness with something that isn't fucked-up. And you think that...maybe you won't be a total waste of space when you find something to fill that space. But instead, you end up being more sad, and more angry, because that emptiness can never be filled with something else, because the problem is always you. And how do you fill a space in you that's empty because of you?

Dean turns around and leans his back against the wall, lets his legs give out under him and glides down to the cold floor.

They're hopeless hearts just trying to pass through life, every one of his bones is screaming that he doesn't know what to do. He wants to be able to talk to Cas, tell him what he tells him in those conversations he has, the ones that never leave his head. Because every time he tries, all the lines he rehearsed just disappear from his mind. 

I'll tell you about it if I ever get it straight in my head. Write the words 'I love you' in every empty silence.

For now, he has nothing to offer anybody except his own confusion. He doesn't know if he'll ever be able to do it right.

You can, a hopeful little voice says far back in a forgotten corner of his mind, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. If he just trusted that to be true.

Dean sits in the quiet darkness of his room, he hadn't bothered to switch the ceiling lights on when he came, the only source of brightness a little bulb of light on his bedside table that can't chase the shadows out of the farther corners. There's nothing to see anyway. No one to see. The floor is hard underneath him, the wall cold in his back. His hand still hurts, but he ignores it, closes his eyes and lets himself be swallowed. He's just so tired. It's so exhausting to keep everything locked up all the time. So he lets it come, let's the hurt and longing and love roll over him until he disappears under the waves. 

And just when he's drowning, that's when he could finally breathe. It's so much, it's frightening, but it's also liberating. 

Cas' face appears in front of him again, smiling down at him. This time, he lets the images linger, dives down into the memory of that night he slept in his arms, the warmth and protection he'd felt such a contrast to the hard coldness he finds himself surrounded by right now.

Cuddling. He'd cuddledThey'd cuddled. And fuck him, he loved it. The domestic quality of it makes his heart flutter. Damnit, he wants- he wants everything with Cas, ok? The whole bloody thing. Having a life and getting a pet (ok, they already have that one) and matching pyjamas (ok, ok, they already have those, too) and going on vacation and sleeping in the same bed and fighting over curtain patterns and all the other stupid normal life crap. The whole package of domestic shit - and he's fucking afraid of it. 

He'd like to promise Cas the world, but...he can't. He can't even promise him a normal, peaceful life, for fuck's sake. All he can promise is his world, his life. A world that has become Cas' too and...a life that he'd like to make theirs. He knows it's not much, but... 

All I have to promise you is everything in me, poor offering as that is. 

Perhaps it will be enough.

Nothing has ever been conventional about them, after all. Things hadn't even happened in the right order, for fuck's sake! First, he'd died, then they'd met, Cas had saved him and Dean had stabbed him, then there was pining worth of a whole damn forest, then Cas had said he loved him and nearly died because of it- 

And now they're back to this game they're playing. 

Dean feels like he's climbing a mountain over and over again, but every time he reaches the edge of the waterfall, he's too afraid to jump. There's this little voice inside him that says "Don't do it. You're gonna die." So he turns around and it's the climbing down the mountain alone that actually feels like dying. And he wishes that he could just stand there at its edge for once, telling himself "Oh look, it's time to die again", and he wishes there could be a different voice for once, a voice that says "Do you want me to jump with you?" And deep inside, he knows Cas can be that person, that someone who takes his hand when he wants to walk away from the edge once again like the coward he is, that someone that says "Come on, you can do it. We'll jump together." And maybe he'll find out that he's not gonna die at all. Maybe he'll find out that he won't even fall. Maybe... maybe he'll fly.

When he opens his eyes again, there's a determination rushing through his veins that he didn't know he still possessed. Getting up from the floor is easy, opening the door is easy. Closing it feels like leaving more than one mess behind.

He's going to fix this.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"Can't sleep, either?"

When Cas enters the kitchen, he finds Dean with his back to him, leaned over the sink. 

"I don't sleep, Dean." He hesitantly steps behind the hunter, tries to throw a glance at his profile. "I heard you. Getting up. And I wanted to check if-" He breaks off as his gaze falls on Dean's hands in the sink, water running over scraped knuckles, washing off the remains of drying blood. "Dean", he says, not caring to keep the worry out of his voice. "Your hand-"

"Oh, that's nothing", Dean says not very convincingly as he grabs a kitchen cloth for drying, trying to hide his clearly injured knuckles by shielding them with his other hand. 

Cas raises his eyebrows. He knows this game. 

"Dean."

"Cas, it's nothing." Dean sounds dismissive, but gives up the futile hiding endeavour. "Just an accident", he mumbles in his 'I don't wanna talk about this' voice. This, Cas knows well, too. He hears it a lot. He doesn't find it in himself to argue with it now.

He sighs, resigning.

"If you say so, Dean." He watches how Dean presses his lips together, and for a second he wonders if there's something more sitting at the tip of the hunter's tongue, but if there is, Dean bites it back. Instead, he lowers his eyes to his hand, drives a thumb over the red marks and hisses.

"Here, let me." Cas reaches for him instantly, pleased when Dean meets him half-way, as if giving himself over to Cas' care. At least that's what Cas allows himself to believe for a second. He takes Dean's chafed hand in one of his and places the other on top, careful not to touch the raw patches. The light of his healing can be seen shining through their fingers and maybe Cas holds on just a moment longer than would have been necessary before he releases Dean's hand.

Dean stretches his fingers, trying out the newly unblemished skin.

"Thanks, Cas." His voice is soft and genuine, and for a moment Cas can feel the familiar warm fluttering forming in his chest. Then suddenly, there's a flicker behind Dean's eyes, he looks almost panic-stricken for a second before something shuts down and his smile vanishes. He lowers his eyes, clears his throat.

"I'm good now", he says then, shifting uncomfortably, and Cas doesn't really understand what caused this sudden change of atmosphere. Except maybe- "See? You can go back to your room-", Dean says, sounding harsher than he probably anticipated. "I-If you want", he quickly adds, having Cas wrinkle his brow.

"Dean..." He tilts his head to the side, tries to read what might be going on in the other's head. "Is there- Is there something on your mind? Something that's troubling you?"

He means to catch Dean off guard, get him to share a bit more in one of those rare moments when he allows himself to be vulnerable. But the snort the hunter lets out quickly disillusions Cas' hope.

"I'm a hunter, Cas", Dean says as if the mere question had been ridiculous. "One with a messed-up past, confused present and pretty low chances for a better future. There's always something on my mind troubling me." To someone else, this might have sounded like a regular shut-off Dean-comeback, but to Cas, it might actually have revealed a bit more than Dean intended to. His voice is hard and gives nothing away, but there's a revealing glimmer in his eyes that Cas tries to catch before the hunter averts his gaze.

"You know what I meant", he says with a hint of reproach, eyeing Dean intensely.

"I'm fine." Cas huffs. Dean can pull this shit with whoever he wants, but he's not stupid.

"We both know that's a lie." Dean's eyes shoot up to his, mouth slightly open with surprise about Cas' harsh tone. Cas holds his gaze, questioning blue eyes searching for whatever Dean is hiding. The hunter is slightly squirming under his look, his eyes going wide, teeth worrying at his bottom lip. The wall he's built seems to slowly melt away the longer their eye-contact lasts, and just when Cas thinks he might find what he's looking for, Dean suddenly turns away, hands roughly gripping the edge of the counter. 

Cas sighs. He doesn't have the strength for this.

"Alright", he says quietly, nods to himself. "I see." He waits a few more moments for Dean to react, give him something, anything. But there's just a turned back, slowly moving with the in- and outtake of breath. Okay, then. Cas drives a hand over his face. He's tired. He doesn't feel physical exhaustion, but this is an emotional sort of draining. You can't help someone who refuses to let you, no matter how hard you try.

"Goodnight, Dean."

~oOo~

Dean curses himself. Where's that damn determination gone he'd felt when he left his room? Vanished down the drain like the red-dyed water in the sink as soon as those impossibly blue eyes locked with his, that's where. He wants to go through with this, he really does, but he's a fucking coward. He hadn't been ready, hadn't planned on Cas suddenly appearing here, not yet, not before he'd made up his mind on how to get this show on the road.

So of course his defensive douche-instincts tuned in and now Cas is leaving again. He's hurt and he's leaving.

He can't let him. He can let it end like that, not again. If he's going to fuck up again, then because he finally put all his fucking cards on the table. If he's going to fuck up again, he's gonna do it right. 

"Wait." He turns around, relieved to see that Cas has stopped in his tracks with one hand against the doorframe. "Actually...I-" He laughs bitterly, hating himself for being so damn tongue-tied all the time. "Y'know, I've been trying to find a positive spin on this...but I got nothin'."

Cas squints his eyes in confusion.

Dean laughs again. The sound is cold and hollow. He closes his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose. It's easier to get words out when he's not looking at him.

"Why do we keep doing this, Cas? Just not...talk about shit."

There's a heavy silence following his words, one that forces Dean to open his eyes again and look at the angel's reaction. Cas seems to be in thoughts, a deep frown engraved on his forehead. Dean waits, watches the wheels turning behind that furrow, the way it finally relaxes, the way his eyes go wide and pliant.

"If this is about-" Cas breaks off, licks his lips. "I don't want to be presumptuous", he says then, slow and cautious, "but- if this is about that moment in your room yesterday, I told you, I know you don't want to talk about it. And I accept that. I understand."

Dean wants to laugh again, forces the sound back down his throat. It's a disgusting habit.

"You're kidding, right?", he says instead, incredulous. "You don't understand shit, Cas."

He feels a pang of guilt when Cas twitches at his harsh tone, but he can't give that any thought now. His agitation fuels his vocal cords, makes it easier to get out what needs to be said. So he clings to it, almost grateful when Cas straightens his shoulders defensively.

"I beg your pardon?"

"What?" Dean accepts the challenge, lets his voice be carried by the flow. "You think I can just- what? Ignore all that shit you said and pretend it never happened?"

Cas looks at him as if he just asked if the sky is blue. The angel opens his mouth, closes it again, shakes his head to himself. When the blue eyes meet his again, there's a new fire in them that throws Dean off course for a second.

"Actually, yes", Cas says, voice laced with disbelief. "You made it very clear that you didn't wish to see me, that you prefered to stay in your room and...even eat dinner in silence and solitude." Dean would like to know how Cas does it, control his voice like that, calm yet accusing. "You avoided me, for weeks, Dean", he throws in Dean's face, and yes, he's right, of course he is. "And then you told me you wanted to go back to the way things were before-" Cas breaks off, swallows. "....before. I know I'm not the most well-versed in reading human interactions, but I can get a fucking hint, Dean!"

"I-" His voice gets lost in the angry sparkle of blue eyes fixed on him, the untypical curse that escaped the angel's mouth. And when has Cas gotten this close, anyway?

"You...You've been avoiding me as well", he says lamely, aware what a weak retort it is. Still, it seems to soften something in Cas, the fire giving way to something quieter, sadder. 

"Only because I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. To give you space. Isn't that what you always told me? Personal space."

He looks very small all of a sudden, quoting back Dean's words at him, the lies he'd created to keep the angel at a distance. Dean feels the urge to reach out and touch him, comfort him, but he's not sure his touch would be welcomed right now.

"And you think I want that now? ", he asks instead, not quite managing to keep the desperation out of his voice. "After all that...after everything?"

Cas shrugs and that little movement makes something inside Dean break.

"I thought that would be what you want, especially after...everything", Cas echoes.

So this is...this is all his fault again, isn't it. He's made Cas believe he didn't want to talk. So Cas didn't.

Well done, Dean. You're an idiot.

"Well." Dean swallows hard. "Guess again."

The emotion flitting over Cas' face is a turmoil, Dean thinks to make out surprise, wonder, confusion, and a tiny hint of...is that...hope?

"But...", Cas stares at him with wide eyes. "You've barely said a few words to me-"

"Because I didn't want to say the wrong thing!"

This might be the most painfully truthful thing he said so far. If he didn't speak, he couldn't confess. (Only, he confesses with his eyes every time he looks at him, anyway. His eyes are just as much confessing as Cas' are, both so occupied expressing everything their lips couldn't that they don't see.)

"You've barely been able to look at me-"

The anger is completely drained out of the angel's voice by now, leaving it raw, almost pleading, and Dean nods to himself, drives a hand over his face, lets the emotion loosen his tongue, confess openly and truthfully. The pain of hearing Cas like that is mixing with the pain that's become his constant companion and he doesn't dare look at him, fixes his eyes on the kitchen tiles. 

"Because I couldn't stand to see the hurt", he manages to press out, "and...and the pity-"

"Dean." And finally, finally, they're touching. It's Cas who reached out to put his hand on Dean's arm, Cas that brings them even closer together while his voice makes its way under Dean's skin and into his soul. "If you'd just looked me in the eye for two seconds you would have seen that this is not what you'd have found." His grip on Dean's arm tightens, urging him on. "Dean, look at me. Look at me!" 

He can't. It's going to be his undoing if he meets his eyes now. 

"Please." Cas is truly pleading, he's begging, and Dean looks. He has to look. He sees how Cas breathes out when their eyes meet, a soft peacefulness settling over his features, the hint of a smile forming in the corner of his mouth. 

"Now tell me what you see", Cas asks, voice so soft Dean almost can't stand it, couldn't deny him if he tried. So he stares, mouth slightly open, mesmerized by the warmth in Cas' eyes, the affection, the compassion, the lo- nonono. He shakes his head, shakes himself out of this before he's in too deep.

"Well." His tongue feels too heavy in his mouth and Cas' hand letting go of his arm is a painful loss. "If you could just forget about it, good for you, man. But I can't." He doesn't know where the words come from. He didn't mean to say them. He doesn't want to rip down what they built up just now. But he has to be sure, he has to be absolutely certain this time. So he swallows around the lump in his throat, keeps his voice as steady as possible as he speaks his potential sentence of ruin. "So- sorry, but you will talk about it. You'll have to."

He mentally goes in defence mode, prepares for whatever is to come, but he's simply met with a smile. Cas is smiling

"Dean, you- you still misunderstand me", he says, keeps smiling. Dean can't quite decide if it's a happy or a sad smile. "It's not that I don't want to talk about it. I just assumed you would prefer to forget", Cas tells him, and oh fuck

"You want to talk?", he asks, and there's much more confidence in his voice than Dean suddenly feels himself. "Good. Let's talk."

Chapter Text

Cas stands in the room like a lost puppy. 

Awkward.

Dean has no clue how to begin this. He just knows it won't work like this - he a mental mess on the edge of his bed before they even started, Cas standing at the door like he's only waiting for Dean to fuck up so bad he can grab the handle and flee.

"Look, man, this is gonna take a while so maybe you wanna-"

Dean gestures to a chair, the same that he's told Cas not to sit on a few nights ago, but he can't even think about Cas sitting with him on his bed right now, he really has enough shit going on to distract him, thank you very much. To his relief, Cas follows without a word, silently crosses the room and shrugs his coat and suit jacket off and places them over the chair's back - and damn this has no right to be so hot, like why is this hot at all, come on, Dean. Oh wow, you're gonna see him in a long-sleeved shirt now- ohmygod calm down, what the hell-

"Dean." Cas is shifting uncomfortably, still on his feet. He seems lost without the usual armour of his coat. His eyes wander around restlessly before they're caught by the opposite wall. The wall that still has red marks and wet patches decorating it. Dean follows his gaze and curses himself. How the fuck could he forget that before bringing Cas here, he's so stupid, fuck-

"Dean, did you- Is this how-?" 

"I-" He just breaks off. What can he say, anyway? It's all too obvious. Why the hell didn't he think of making his room presentable first? Ah yes. Because he hadn't planned for Cas to be here now, to do this now, that's why. "That's not what we're here for, Cas", he simply states evasively. "It's healed now. You fixed it. I'm good." You always have to fix what I fucked up.

Dean looks anywhere but at Cas, feigning interest in the blank white walls. The ones that aren't splashed with the undeniable display of his shame, that is.

It's one of those moments Dean is reminded that Cas is an angel. All that power that resides under the silent cover of his vessel. He's like lightning in a bottle. Sparkling and electric and enticing. Beautiful. Dangerous. Cas had been created millennia ago, had been on earth for over ten years, but he could still be so awkward (and adorable) at times that Dean forgets that he's that old supernatural being. 

And here they are with Dean -cool, tough, confident 'best hunter there ever was' Dean- palms sweating as he tries to talk about feelings that scare the hell out of him. And Cas, the social awkwardness made flesh, all calm and collected.

"Just-" Dammit, he really needs to get his stupid shit together. "Will you just sit down? Please?"

Cas forces his eyes away from the shards of glass on the floor and fixes them on Dean instead, stares at him for a moment, intense and motionless. Dean swallows as he watches Cas pressing his lips together as if biting back words Dean isn't sure he would have wanted to hear, but then he blinks and slowly sits down, never breaking eye contact.

Silence. Awkward. Dean supposes it's better if Cas isn't the first to start talking, though. 

This is it, then. The moment. And he's got nothing. 

"Fuck", he says, drives a hand over his face, "this went so much smoother in my head...dammit."

And Cas...Cas is aware he isn't making it exactly easy for Dean, but he has said everything there is to say. It's at Dean to make the next move.

Which he does. He takes a deep breath, settles himself, orders his thoughts as best as he can.

 "Okay, look. Cas, buddy..."

Look, Cas, buddy...you can't stay, it echoes in Cas' head. He's heard that speech before. He knew this was probably what's about to come.

Hey, Cas. Look, buddy...you're my best friend. You're family, yeah? You're like a brother, but that's...that's all. Thanks for trying to save me, but...yeah. That's just not...gay stuff, you know. Not really my scene, pal. So...glad we talked about that. I'm sure you understand. 

He can just picture the pitiful smile.

Look, Cas, buddy...you can't stay. Just like the last time Dean sent him away.

"Dean-", he attempts, but is broken off before he even gets as much as two words out.

"Nonono!" Dean shakes his head. "Don't you give me that kicked puppy face, dude, not now!"

Cas opens his mouth, takes a breath in, holds it for a second. But then he just lets it flow out of his lungs again, lowering his eyes to his feet. This is not his speech to make. If this is what Dean wants, then...

 "What were you thinking, man?" It's the first thing that comes to Dean's mind, so he just goes for it. Focusing on Cas is a lot easier than having to address his own feelings. He watches Cas' eyes slowly wander back up to meet his, the typical confused wrinkle on his brow.

"I don't understand. What-"

"You stupid son of a bitch!" Dean doesn't know if to laugh, cry, or yell. "What were you thinking!?"

He knows it's not fair, getting angry with Cas, poor guy was just doing what Dean pretended he wanted him to. But he doesn't have another outlet for these feelings right now. Cas stares at him, dumbfounded in the face of Dean's unexpected outburst.

"I-..."

"Cas." Dean presses his lips together, feels how something swells up in him, something he's been nourishing and growing for weeks, finally threatening to break out. And he lets it. He just lets it. "You fucking idiot", he says, shaking his head in frustrated disbelief, "you're family. You're my friend, Cas, my best friend, but- that's- You're more and I can't-" He trails off, sighs. "This bond between us, that's more than a connection of an angel saving a soul. It was you saving me. You've been saving me over and over again, in more ways than one. And the thought that you almost saved me again, but at what price, I-" He drives a hand through his hair, prepares his tongue for what he knows is coming next, forces it not to stumble over the words. "If it meant I'd lose you, I wouldn't have wanted to be saved", he says, calmly, truthfully. "What good would it have done to be left in a world where you're gone? If I'd been left here, knowing that you're gone because of me-"

He breaks off, takes a deep, shaky breath. His mind tries to show him pictures of times he lost people, times he lost Cas, but he swallows them down. He can't have that now. He knows anyway. It's mortifying to be the one who's left behind. It's mortifying to be the one who remembers.

"For you", Cas' soft, cautious voice rips him back to the angel sitting in front of him, "not because of you."

Dean snorts.

"Comes down to the same damn thing", he says, and Cas flinches. He can't find it in himself to care. "You would've been dead, Cas. And I can't stand- I..." I love you. Of course I love you. Don't you see that? Don't you know? I love you so much it fucking terrifies me.

"So what the hell were you thinking, man? How could you do that?" Dean hates how weak and shaky his voice has suddenly become. He can't do anything about it. "How could you have left me here with all that...that stuff you said and just die on me, you bastard. How could you?" Don't you know?  "Don't you know how...cruel and... insanely stupid that was?"

"I..." Cas looks impossibly small, eyes decidedly settled on the floor, and the guilt on his face reminds Dean painfully of just how fucking much he loves that stupid angel, no matter what shit he's done. "I never intended to be cruel..." 

"I know that!" Dean grabs the edge of the bed to ground himself, keep him from reaching out. "Hell, of course I know that!" He's yelling. He's yelling at Cas and- shit
"Fuck, I just-" He desperately grasps for words that keep slipping through his fingers. "Urgh, dammit!"

His white-knuckled grip loosens to bury his face in his hands instead. It's too much. He's feeling to much stuff at the same time. Anger, frustration, with himself, with Cas. Longing, hope, want, need. He needs to get this right, he needs Cas to understand, he needs Cas to... He needs Cas. Fuck, fuck, fuck! It's going all wrong and he doesn't know how to- he doesn't-...

The wave of helplessness washes over him suddenly, mingles with everything else boiling inside of him to one overwhelming mess that makes his breath catch in his throat and drives tears to his eyes. Awesome. He's so not gonna cry now, in front of Cas and in the middle of their stupid, failing conversation and-

A sob wants to force its way out of his throat and he swallows it with a choking sound. 

"Dean." There's the hint of a question in Cas' hesitant voice, and no, he absolutely fucking will not let Cas see the state he's in. He hears the rustling of fabric as Cas moves on his chair, moves towards him, and Dean holds out a hand so quickly Cas doesn't even get to stand up.

"No, don't." Dean waves him to stay put, uses his other hand to rub his eyes and hopefully cover up any revealing dampness. "It's fine. I'm fine." He lets both hands fall down to his lap, stares at them, can't look at Cas. "I'm fine", he hears himself say again, a whisper, a lie that he's told so many times he almost started to believe it himself. "I...I'm-" His voice cracks, and the next thing he knows is Cas moves again, practically flies out of the chair and to his side before he even has time to process it.

"Dean." Arms wrap him up in a hug, and he resists at first, doesn't want to be like this, this weak and pathetic mess Cas has to hold together. But it's warm here, safe, and he feels his resolve to withstand melt away, his treacherous body going soft and pliant against the angel's chest. 

"I'm sorry." The words escape him in stutters, bordering on sobs, but not quite, not quite, he could sob from the way Cas' arms tighten around him, but he won't. "I get mad", he says, eyes closed. "I told you. You know I get mad. All that anger, I- I don't know why I get so angry all the time. Cas..."

"Shush." He feels Cas' chin settle on his head. "It's okay. It's okay. I know." 

Dean wants to believe him, but he knows it's not okay. It's everything but okay. 

"You didn't send me away", Cas' soft voice reaches his ear, and he almost thinks to hear a smile in it. Only, why should Cas be smiling? Dean has given him no reason to. "I read that as a good sign", the angel goes on, unaware of the war Dean is fighting in his head. "I never expected anything from you. And I can be content like this. With you just...knowing. That you'd know and... it's more than I ever thought I could have."

It's enough to rip Dean out of his haze, make him disentangle himself from those arms still holding onto him. When he looks at Cas, his blue eyes are warm and grateful, of all things, and Dean doesn't get a single fucking word he just said.

"Allow you to- " He blinks, tries to understand what refuses to make sense, however he twists and turns it. "Cas. This is not about- You don't need my fucking permission to- Geez." 

You didn't send me away. Is this what Cas thought of him? Is this what he thought Dean would do? Son of a bitch, he fucked up even more than he thought.

"You were always there", Dean says incredulously, desperately, because Cas still doesn't know. "Even if I wanted you gone...you- No, if I had to tell you to go", he corrects himself, "because I never actually wanted you to. Not ever. I could never want you gone, Cas." 

He looks back into those beautiful blue eyes that have gone wide at Dean's words, and fucking hell, they're impossible. An angel, once believed to be completely incapable of human emotion, and a human, too much of a coward to admit to feelings that should have come so naturally to him. 

But I won't let you leave me again, he thinks, wants to say. I can't.

 "So you don't get to pull that shit", is what tumbles from his mouth. "You don't get to do a damn deathbed confession, not again. I thought we were through that, been there, done that, big selfless sacrifice crap and-"

"It wasn't altruistic", Cas breaks him off, still calm but firm. "In fact, my reasons were entirely selfish. You deserved to be saved. The only thing I ever wanted is for you to be happy, Dean, to live the life you deserve."

"Deserve." Dean shakes his head. He's heard that word before. He's not one to apply it to himself. "Fuck, Cas, I- Not gonna go down that road, but...whatever life you'd want for me..." He pauses, keeps his eyes fixed on Cas'. He can do this. "What...what want... sure as hell ain't a life without you in it."

Cas bites his lip, Dean watches something flicker over his face, as if he can't decide what emotion to settle on.

"I'm sorry", he finally says, breaking their gaze by looking at his hands in his lap. "I never wanted you to have to deal with this, Dean. I thought I was going to die", he says, voice wavering as his eyes snap up to the hunter's again. "I was sure I was about to die, Dean. I never planned for you to have to deal with this...after. Because I thought there would be no after. I'm sorry."

"Not having to deal with this", Dean repeats to himself, huffs. "Bullshit, man. I haven't been able to think about a damn thing ever since that day. It's haunting me in my sleep, Cas."

Cas nods as if he knows. He doesn't know shit. He has no fucking idea.

"I'm so sorry", it leaves Cas' lips again, and Dean just wishes he would stop saying that. "I know it wasn't- I- I never meant to do this to you." He sounds sad, tired in a way that goes far beyond physical exhaustion. (Not that he feels that, anyway.) Cas sighs. "Forgive me. I..." He shifts on the bed, gives Dean a hardly convincing smile, "I should go. Give you some peace."

What? No. Nonono. He watches helplessly how Cas gets up. He can't leave now. Dean can't-

"There is no peace, don't you get that?", he blurts out before Cas even made one step. "Not until I know."

"Know what, Dean?" He hasn't turned, just stands there, close enough to touch, too far away to reach for. 

"Sonofa-" Dean gets up too, needs to be on eye-level for this, needs to...he doesn't really know what he needs. He drives a hand over his face. He needs to get this over with, that's what he damn well needs. "Did you mean it?", he simply asks, swallows around the lump in his throat when Cas slowly turns back to him. "Cas? Did you- Did you mean it? When you said you..."

The seconds that pass until Cas opens his mouth feel like hours.

"Dean." The angel's head is tilted, eyes squinted in wonder. "Of course I meant it. The Empty wouldn't have been summoned if I didn't." It sounds so easy, Cas saying it like that, as if it makes so much sense, as if it didn't just knock the air out of Dean's lungs. "I wish I could take that burden from your shoulders and say that I didn't", Cas goes on before Dean has found his voice, "but I can't. I can't pretend anymore, not now that it's finally out there. I'm just so- I'm so tired, Dean." Cas smiles, lips pressed together, and Dean can see it again, the exhaustion from before, the exhaustion Dean knows himself. "I'm tired of pretending I don't feel the way I do. So, I'll leave that knowledge to your disposal, to do with it what you wish, but...yes, I meant it. Every word. I still do."

"C-Cas-"

A burden on my shoulders. The one thing I want, it's something I know I can't have. Oh, Cas...

"It's fine." Cas smiles again, that knowing smile Dean hates by now. "I promise. I understand."

He turns again, is about to take a step, hasn't even grabbed his coat from the chair- 

And Dean is just so fucking sick of watching Cas walk away from him.

"Cas, wait!" He grabs his wrist, makes Cas turn back to him. His blue eyes flit down to his arm, staring at the point of contact, then shoot up to Dean's face. His brow is furrowed, mouth slightly open, and Dean has seriously no idea how he makes his vocal cords work.

 "You-" He licks his lips, swallows visibly. "You can have it, Cas." 

There it is. He stares at Cas' face, pleads with every fibre in his body that he'll understand, get the full meaning behind his words. The angel looks puzzled for a moment, but then his eyes go wide, his brow relaxes and he takes in a breath.

"Dean..." 

Yes. Yes, Cas, please...

 "If this is really...what you want", he croaks out, "if I am-"

And suddenly he's pressed against the wall, strong hands holding onto his arms, firm yet gentle, holding him together rather than keeping him captive.

Every nerve ending in Cas' body is telling him to lean forward, close the gap and just take, but he won't. He has millennia of practice in restraint, and approximately eleven years of practice in quite extraordinary restraint. He'd never push Dean. Not in anything, and certainly not in this. Not even now, after what he just said. He'd wait. He'd always waited. I'll just wait here, then.

If they were to take that step, that leap - it would have to be the hunter's choice, his to make and his to set the pace. If he couldn't...Cas would keep waiting. (To him, honest love is less about how much you would do for someone, and more about how long you would wait, unable to do anything at all. If that's what it takes, Cas knows he would wait forever.)

"You can have it", Dean repeats, voice barely a whisper, a gentle breath on Cas' face. "Just tell me that you want it and it's yours. Please-"

Cas can practically watch the storm raging behind those green eyes as they stare at each other, inches apart - when did they get so close anyway? He can't remember.

Dean can't, either. Rationally he knows someone must have moved, brought them to this point, this teeter that's just waiting to tip over to one side or the other. It's just that rational thinking has never been his strong suit, and Cas' lips right in front of his eyes don't exactly increase his brain cells' will to work. I fact, they seem to be quitting their job one after another the longer Dean stands and looks. Awesome.

He tries to focus on the angel's eyes just so as not to stare at his mouth, but it's far too easy to get lost in the blue, far too easy to read things in their depths that are as hauntingly beautiful as they are dangerous.

Don't be scared, they seemed to say. I won't scar your heart further. Just take my hand. Trust me.

"Dean." Cas' voice is raw and breathless, and Dean sucks in a gulp of air when the angel leans their foreheads together. He closes his eyes, can't help it. 

"You have me", he whispers. "Cas, I-" I think I want to be in love with you, but I just don't know how. He can feel Cas' breath on his face, the burn of his own that comes in shallow pants, both mingling in the space between them.

"Cas...", he breathes out again, like a prayer, the only word that's still clear in his mind. "Please." 

He's begging for something, something he doesn't know how else to express. That's what they do. They have twelve years behind them, twelve years of silent begging. Tell me, show me without making me ask. And Cas understands. He seems to know what Dean's asking for before Dean even knows it himself.

As soon as Cas' lips softly brush against his, he knows that this is it. This is what he's asked for, this is what he's been asking for all his life. It's gentle and tentative and questioning, it's cautious and hopeful and perfect. He grabs for the familiar lapels of a trenchcoat, remembers that it's still hanging over the chair, over his chair, and claws his fingers into the thin fabric of Cas' shirt instead. He doesn't pull, he doesn't push either (oh, damn him, he's never gonna push again), he just holds onto it, grateful for the steadying support, the wall in his back. He whimpers at the first firmer press of chapped lips against his, a sound unlike any he's ever heard escaping his own throat. 

No shits are given in the slightest.

Chapter Text

Castiel knows how to save Dean, how to protect him. He knows how it feels to fail him, how to see him die, how to mourn him. He knows how to watch him, watch over him, look after him. He knows how to love Dean, but always from afar. He knows stolen glances, accidental touches, secret moments.

He doesn't know how to be allowed to be near, to look, to touch. He doesn't know how to kiss him. 

But oh, if he isn't going to find out...

It's just a brush of lips, closed mouths pressing together, chaste and searching. A few seconds of contact, of connection, a question Cas writes onto Dean's lips before he slowly pulls back. They're both breathing hard, and Dean can see the way Cas' pupils are dilated, the blue still there but darker, sparkling, inviting, speaking volumes of the mixed emotion swirling behind the calm surface.

He has to look away. If he doesn't look away immediately, he'll never look away.

"Cas, I...I-" It's easier to find his voice when he's not looking. It's still hard to find the words. He squeezes his eyes shut, exhales a shaky breath. Cas blinks when he meets his gaze again and Dean is grateful for it, gives him a reason not to fall under that spell and drown.

He should be able to say it. Shouldn't he be able to say it now? He so wants to be able to say it. Cas deserves to hear him say it. 

"It's okay, Dean." Cas' words are too understanding, his voice too soft, his gentle smile misplaced. "You don't have to say it."

You don't have to say it. I heard your prayer.

You don't know, he wants to scream in Cas' face. You have no idea. He can't stand the thought of it happening again, not again, not like in purgatory, not again. And yet there's a sick sense of relief about this game they're playing, the way he always finds a way not to tell him, always too busy, always hunting, always saving, always averting Armageddon, again and again and again. Never enough time, never the right time, never the right place, either. Never right. Never ready. If they wait until they're ready, they would be waiting for all eternity.

"Don't do this, Cas", he says without thinking and Cas flinches slightly at the echo of his words from the dungeon, but this is not what Dean meant, this is not what he meant at all, not this time.

"No, I- I mean..." I want to say it. I want you to hear it. He licks over his lips, an unconscious nervous habit, and tries not to let himself be distracted by the fact that Cas' eyes seem to follow the movement of his tongue. "I have to tell you- You need to know that I-I...I need you, Cas", he presses out, angry with himself that once again, it's not the words he'd wanted to say, not the words he meant. Fucking coward.

But Cas' mouth is still curled into that gentle smile when he dares to look at him, and how the hell is Dean supposed to stay angry with himself when such a beautiful thing is directed his way?

"Dean." The name is like honey. Sweet and golden and dripping with affection. Dean almost can't stand it. He's tempted to close his eyes again, overwhelmed, but he can't. He's captured by something in Cas' gaze, a calm blue ocean sparkling in the sunlight. 

"I know, Dean", Cas tells him. The corner of his mouth twitches upwards, crooked and beautiful. "I love you, too."

Dean can hear his own pant in the silence around them, not knowing what feeling it is that provoked it. Surprise? Realisation? Relief? Gratefulness? They all muddle into one indistinguishable ball of emotion until he's unable to tell them apart anymore. That happens often. Feelings going down onto each other, mixing, fighting, creating a monster he can't understand anymore. Joy laced with fear. Relief laced with worry. He has long forgotten what it feels like to really know your own heart.

Thank the universe he had found someone that spoke his language so he wouldn't have to spend his life translating his soul.

They're standing at the top of this cliff, the edge of something he doesn't know how to cross. But he wants to. Oh, he's wanted to for so many years. But he's afraid. It's not easy, taking a step when you know you're going to fall, without an idea what awaits you at the foot. If you're gonna be caught or crash. 

It's a leap of faith. This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith.

Cas had been right about that. But it hadn't always been that way. Life had stolen it from him, with every loved one he lost, everyone that left him, every day that passed in pain and loneliness. But he isn't alone anymore, is he. He has Sam and Jack, Claire, Jody, Donna...

He has Cas. Cas, who always stays. Cas who just kept staying, and Dean... so used to being left by everyone he cares about - who could blame him for needing quite a while to trust that?

Dean doesn't have faith in life (he certainly didn't have faith in Chuck), but now, he knows he has faith in his family.

What comes next happens so fast, he has no time to think about it. Which is probably a good thing, so he couldn't talk himself out of it again. What happens is that he tightens his grib on the shirt he hasn't realised he's still holding onto, uses it to switch their positions and fling Cas against the wall instead. Even the smallest gap between himself and the angel is suddenly too much, so he presses his lips to Cas' and kisses him again. He kisses him for all the times he's wanted to and didn't. And it feels as outrageous as it feels inevitable.

Cas is stiff against him just for a second but lets Dean manhandle him without any resistance, and no, Dean is not going to think about the implications of that, this supernatural being that lets himself be pushed around when he could have broken Dean's arm with no effort at all. Dean knows there's no need to worry, neither is there time, for as soon as Cas realises what's happening he melts into Dean's touch and the angel's lips start moving against his. He's inexperienced and a little awkward at first, but it doesn't matter. This is Cas, it's Cas, and he's kissing him back! Oh my fucking God, he's actually, properly kissing Cas! The realisation makes Dean freak out and relax at the same time, he feels his arms loosening their grip on the angel's shirt and wandering around his back instead, encircling him in a careful but tight embrace.

That's all Cas needs. Dean is holding him, pulling him closer, just as if he tries to keep Cas from slipping away again, and it's all Cas has ever wanted. Encouraged by the hunters' eagerness, he allows his own hands to wander, up Dean's arm, over his shoulder, delighting in the shiver that runs through Dean's body when he brushes the patch that had once been adorned with the print of his hand. But he doesn't stop there, scratching over the short hairs in Dean's neck before he tangles his fingers in the thick blond strands.

Each little touch is fulfilling in a way that Cas couldn't ever have imagined. And yet, it doesn't minder the longing inside of him, quite the opposite. With every sweep of his fingers, he craves more, wants to touch his face, pull his hair, kiss his chest, bite his-

"Dean." He reluctantly pulls away before his imagination gets ahead of his rational thinking. His voice is even deeper than usually and he feels Dean shiver at the sound. Good.

"Dean, can I-" He doesn't even know what to ask first. He wants... all of Dean, that's what he wants. But he would be patient. He would never take more than Dean is willing to give.

"Yeah." Dean is panting, just as breathless as Cas is himself, and isn't that something, considering that he doesn't actually require any breath at all. "Anything."

Does he mean it? Is Dean even aware what he's saying with this? Does he have any idea what that word encompasses?

Anything

He says it thoughtlessly, carelessly. As if he didn't just promise Cas everything, every fantasy he ever dared engage in, every dream he knows he shouldn't have had. Dean has no idea. No idea of all the things that are swirling in Cas' head now, all the things he wants to do to him, with him. All the things he wants to take, all the things he wants to give. And how could Dean know? These are Cas' darkest, most guarded secrets. Feelings and desires he hardly dared to touch in the privacy of his own mind...

Now they're set free, set on fire by Dean's hands on his back, clutching at his shoulders, Dean's breath ghosting over his lips. Anything, Dean has said, and how on earth is Cas supposed to choose what to do out of all the things that word makes possible. He goes for the closest thing at hand and presses his lips to the hunter's once more, harder, hungrier than before. Dean lets him, matches Cas' pace. The first kisses had been slow, chaste almost, just lips pressing together, lips moving in unison, sweet and perfect. 

This is something else entirely. And it's perfect too.

Dean feels the desperation in the hard press of Cas' lips, the tightening of his grip around his neck. He welcomes it. God, he welcomes all of it. Whatever Cas is willing to give, damn him if he's not going to take it. He lets his tongue dart out, swipes it across the angel's chapped yet soft lips, pleased to find Cas respond eagerly by opening up and letting him in. Despite the obvious hunger in his kiss, Cas seems happy to let Dean take the lead, and what is Dean supposed to do but give the angel what he asks. The first brush of their tongues is careful, tentative, and for a moment their desperation slows while Cas lets Dean explore. He's lost in it, the feeling, the knowledge that it's Cas, dizzy with the impossible truth that Cas allows him to do this. It doesn't feel real, and yet it is, has to be, with the warm weight of his body under Dean's hands, his scent in his nose, the taste of him on his tongue...

Then Cas moans, a sound that should be assigned a tag with a fucking age limit of at least 25, and Dean can hardly wrap his head around that this is the same Cas who'd been thrown out of a brothel for giving advice on daddy issues some time ago. And fuck if he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life eliciting those sounds from his angel again and again...

Wait. Dean's brain screeches to a halt. His angel? When the hell has Cas started to be his angel in Dean's mind? Not that his mind...well, minds. In fact, the problem he has with it is that he likes it a bit too much. It sounds...right. It sounds as if it's supposed to sound like that. Damn.

When Cas breaks away with the need to look at Dean's face, there's warmth in his eyes and a little smile in the corner of his mouth. Green eyes with pupils that are significantly dilated, and a mouth with red, kiss-swollen lips. It's a picture Cas has only seen in his imagination, but even that couldn't prepare him for the sheer beauty of it, the beauty of Dean. And this is because of him, Cas thinks, he did this to Dean. All Cas can do is to bite his lip and keep the groan from escaping his throat.

He doesn't know if Dean noticed, but maybe he did, because there's a twinkle in his eyes when he takes hold of his tie and uses it to draw him into another little peck on the lips.  

"Lemme just grab that real quick", Dean says, loosening the tie around Cas' neck, and Cas just lets him, too busy staring at Dean to speak because he's loosening the tie around Cas' neck. He watches as Dean's nimble fingers work the knot open, not entirely, just wide enough to pull it over Cas' head, and Cas helps him obediently by bowing a little. The smile it earns him makes his heart flutter and he swallows, grateful that Dean didn't see because he turned around and is walking towards the door now. Cas watches in confusion how Dean opens it - he isn't about to leave is he? But no, he opens it just a smidge, just enough to...to hang the tie at the door handle outside before the door closes, and then Dean is suddenly in front of him again, in his space (personal space, he hears Dean's voice in his head, and oh, how far have they've come since then) and Cas realises that he hasn't spoken in several minutes, so he forces his brain to function again.

"What did you do?"

Dean smirks. Smirks.

"So Sammy will know not to disturb us", he says as if that would explain anything. Cas is used to that by now. He had needed years to understand the language of humans, not just to know the words, but to truly understand. But Dean, Dean had a language of his own, full of metaphors, even fuller of cultural references. Cas had made it his personal task to learn this language of his, desired to be able to get all of it, to notice all the humour and wit in it he knew to be there. Much to his own pride and joy, he'd become exceedingly better at it, but there are still things that escape his understanding. He tilts his head in confusion.

"I don't understand. How would a tie at the-" He trails off, thinking. "Oh, I see", he says after a moment, just a hint of pride in his voice. "It's my tie. So he'll know I'm in your room. And as I usually always wear my tie, he'll know I must have taken it off for some reason, which, smart as your brother is, must eventually lead him to the conclusion that we're engaging in sexual relations."

Cas sounds calm and serious as ever and Dean sputters slightly at his words, both in an attempt to suppress a chuckle and in surprise about the...the- 

"Very clever." Cas nods at him in satisfaction, oblivious what the mention of sexual relations did to the other man, and it's so Cas that Dean can't help but smile fondly despite the muddled mess it woke in his stomach. 

"Yeah", he grins. "Yeah, Cas, that's how it works."

Cas' brow furrows again.

"You seem amused. Was I mistaken in my reasoning?"

"Nono." Dean bites the inside of his cheek, the grin widening. "It was...perfectly reasonable."

"Then why are you laughing?"

"Just..." Because I love you. "Because you're you. And I love..." You. Would his brain catch up with his mouth before the damn thing blurts out shit like that, please? Thank you very much. (Or at least have the balls to go through with it, then.) Dean swallows.

"I love...that", he finishes lamely, awkwardly. But how is he supposed to get a grip on his thoughts while Cas looks at him like that??

"O-Okay..." Cas still looks confused but pleased nevertheless, and God, he can't believe how fucking much he adores that stupid little dork of an angel.

"So...are we going to?"

"W-What?" Fuck, he really has to pull his shit together. This is so not the moment to get lost in those gorgeous blue eyes, no matter how easy...

Dammit, Dean, concentrate!

"Engage in sexual intercourse."

 Oooookay, okay. That certainly served to wake Dean up.

"First of all -" Dean congratulates himself on how steady his voice is. Yeah, man, you got this.  "Don't call it that. Big mood-killer. Second- Damnit Cas, you can't just say shit like that."

Cas has the audacity to smile at him. 

"May I read that as a yes?", he asks with a sparkle in his eyes that betrays the innocent tone. "Because, as you know, I don't really have experience with this. My time with April was...educational but, well, short-lived, and probably not the ideal example of a caring relationship." Dean has no time to grin at the pun or the meaningfully raised eyebrows. The word relationship is echoing too loudly in his ears. "So I would appreciate it if you were to...guide me", Cas says, a hint of shyness sneaking into his voice. "A little. I don't want to do something wrong or make you uncomfortable. I need to know if- "

And damn, Cas is nervous too, Dean realises, he seems so collected but- Somehow, that makes him feel a lot better about his own heart that is beating furiously in his chest at the mere thought of anything in the direction of "sexual relations". 

"I don't know what I'm doing either, Cas", Dean blurts out before his mouth made contact with his brain. "I've never-" (He'd thought about it, many times over the years, but never actually found the courage to go through with it.) "But don't think of it that way", he says, tells Cas as much as himself. "There's no doing it right or wrong here, Cas. Just you and me and...as long as it feels good, there's nothing more you need to know, ok?"

"Making it up as we go", Cas says slowly, a smile forming on his still red-kissed lips. "That does sound wonderful, Dean. I don't- I mean we don't need to-" He sighs, directing eyes at Dean that hold more fondness than one single Dean Winchester should be able to handle. "I just want to be close to you", Cas says as truthfully as only Cas can. "In any way you'd let me."

Expecting Dean to think straight (pun intended) in the face of this is really too much to ask, so he answers the only way he knows how, with actions. He's on Cas the second he makes the decision to move, tries to tell him through his fingers that hook into Cas' belt loops to pull their bodies flush together, through the way he uses the angel's gasp to slip his tongue into his mouth, through every point of contact that makes Dean's skin tingle all over even through the layers of clothing. I want to be close too, he kisses into Cas' mouth, any way, every way. He bites his lip when Cas breaks the kiss to wander down his neck instead, presses open-mouthed kisses to the exposed skin there. Dean instinctively leans his head to the side to give him better access and Cas hums appreciatively and pulls Dean's shirt away to nibble at his collarbone. Dean is long aware that his jeans have started to become uncomfortably tight, but as Cas draws him impossibly closer, his erection brushes the angel's thigh. The jolt it sends through Dean rips him out of his daze just as Cas' mouth covers his again.

"Cas." Shit, he sounds wrecked already, and he wants nothing more than to just continue, but he can't take that risk. This is too important. Cas is too important. Dean curses himself for breaking the kiss, curses himself for panicking, curses himself for...lots of shit. But of-fucking-course he must lose it now. He can't just let himself have nice things, can he? He can't just believe for even a second that this is what Cas wants too, that he is what Cas wants, not even with Cas' fucking tongue in his mouth. He said so, but Cas has no fucking clue what he gets himself into, dammit. "Cas, wait."

Cas freezes at the words, stops immediately and disentangles himself from the hunter. (Has Dean changed his mind? Is he going too fast? He promised himself he wouldn't push, what if he scared him away and ruined everything, what if-?)

But the panic in Cas' gaze is exactly what Dean needs, the fear he can clearly see on that angelic face, proof that Cas is just as afraid to fuck up and lose this as he is...He won't ruin this before it's even begun. He won't. (There'll be enough time for him to do that later, a nasty little voice says in the back of his head, but he silences it, for now.)

He takes a step forward that seems much more confident than he feels, the step Cas has taken back only seconds ago, seconds that felt far too long and too far away from the pleasant warmth of another body pressed to his that he's already become addicted to, as it seems. He reaches for Cas' hands, desperate for some sort of comforting touch, goes for what seems the least risky. 

"You sure you want this?", he asks, self-boycotting moron that he is. It sounds stupid. Dean can't not ask. "Because damnit, Cas, you have to be sure." 

They both know he isn't just talking about sex. This has never just been about sex. 

Relationship, Cas has said. A caring relationship. That's something Dean both knows he craves and has no idea how to do. 

"I'm gonna hurt you along the road", he says, because he knows it's true, and Cas has to know, too. "And it'll be a long one. And I couldn't- If you looked around one day and regret-" Please. You have to stop me before I fuck this up. And I'm going to. I always do. "So if there is any doubt at all- Please, Cas..."

Cas would've liked to tell Dean that he's wrong. That it wouldn't be hard. That he wouldn't hurt him. That he couldn't. But that's a lie. Cas knows as well as Dean that nothing in their life has ever been all ponies and rainbows. And after all - the things that can hurt you the most are those that you love more than anything. 

I'd rather have you, cursed or not.

"You kissed me", he simply states, eyebrows drawn together. "I'd like to think you'd only do that because you love me. And that's all I need to know, Dean." Dean manages to look hope- and doubtful at the same time, causing a fond smile to spread over Cas' face. "Because..." He bites his lip, swallows the surge of embarrassment. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. This is a time of truth, of sharing his truth with Dean the way he's always wanted to, so he does. "Of course I'm drawn to you, physically. But that's not- Not why I'm doing this. What I said, back then. I meant it, Dean. I meant all of it. I love you. I'm in love with you, Dean Winchester, and I think we've been through enough to establish that nothing you say or do can change my feelings for you."

In all those romantic comedies, all the universe seemed to labour to bring two people together that were meant to be. But not them. In their case, the universe even seemed to be against them. In every other universe, they hadn't made it. And that made it even more special in theirs. They had their bond, maybe one could even call them soulmates, but they hadn't been predestined. It had been up to them to make this work. They had chosen each other. Against all odds, against God's will. 

They're here because they chose each other, over and over.

They're here because they love each other.

Dean has known, Cas has told him, and yet being told like this feels like a punch in the gut. A good one, though. Somehow. If that kind of thing exists. 

Cas loves him. Fuck, Cas loves him. Like Love-love, capital L and shit. And- Wait. Cas loves him?

"Cas. You love me." Oh my god, what a stupid thing to say. His voice is breathless and so full of wonder that he almost expects to get a fond eye-roll in return. (And it's not far. The love of his life is an idiot, Cas thinks not for the first time. Obviously, he'd known, but Dean just happened to be so brilliant in between the fits of idiocy that he sometimes tended to forget.)

"I believe that's what I told you. Repeatedly." And yes, there's a hint of a tease, but it's so wrapped up in warmth and affection and genuineness that Dean barely notices. 

"Cas, I-" Oh great. There goes his voice again. "I just never thought-"

And Cas smiles, nods knowingly, soothingly runs a thumb over Dean's knuckles. "I know, Dean. How could you expect someone else to love you when you don't love yourself?"

Well, damn. That hit a little closer to home than Dean would have liked. But then, who would know if not Cas. Who would know better than the one that had to literally rebuild him in Hell? Still, Dean has to remind him what that means. 

"I'm a damaged good, Cas." 

"As am I. We all are, Dean." It's true, but not like this, not like Dean is. "This world, it's broken. No one knows that better than you, but... it's also beautiful." Cas smiles, a smile Dean knows, from that day in the dungeon. He swallows thickly. "So you think you are broken, too? I tell you, you're not. Whatever it is you think is too damaged-"

"Some things are beyond fixing, Cas."

The smile doesn't waver. The angel simply shakes his head.

"I don't want to fix you, Dean. I want you to understand that there's nothing that needs fixing." 

Cas watches calmly how Dean opens his mouth, hesitates, closes it again. And there's so much fear in his green eyes, it almost drowns out the hope behind. It's fine. It makes Cas' heart ache, but it's fine. Speechlessness is better than objection. He knows Dean is not there yet, but perhaps, if Cas just keeps telling him the truth, he will eventually accept it for what it is, see himself for who he is. 

"I don't love you because you're perfect, Dean." (Though he is to Cas, but that's beside the point.)

"Loving you is..." Loving you is not expecting anything, just waiting. Loving you is not rejecting your flaws, and never wanting you to change. Loving you is not demanding and forcing anything, but helping you to free yourself from everything that holds you down. 

"Loving you is loving every part of you", Cas finally says, putting as much unwavering genuineness in his words as he can verbally express. "Even those you yourself think are unlovable. But there's no such thing, Dean. Just because something is not perfect, does not make it any less worthy of love. I know...I know your father made you believe otherwise. So did mine." Cas smiles sadly. "I was taught that fear, fear is the heart of love. That love is...unquestionable devotion and worship, that it's obedience, and that it's something to be demanded, to be forced. But you..." He presses his lips together to hold the tears back that threaten to escape the corner of his eyes, lets all the emotion flow into his voice instead. "You taught me otherwise. It's bravery and- and selflessness and caring. And I'm so...I'm so sick of it, Dean. I'm sick of being controlled by those lies Heaven tried to impose on me. That's not how I want to experience love, that's not how I experience my love for you. And I can't keep acting as if I don't love you. Because I do. I know there are parts that you believe are... too dark and...shameful. But you forget that I've seen you at your worst, Dean, I've seen your soul, and even after all those years in Hell, it still shone brighter than any other I'd ever witnessed. Those things you're ashamed of? Those have been done to you, Dean, but they don't define you, they're not who you are." He draws Dean's hand closer, the one he'd healed earlier, and looks down at the undamaged skin. "I want to know every scar", he says, stroking over the knuckles with his thumb before searching those wide green eyes again. "Every flaw. Every imperfection. Show them to me and I will show you how to love them. You may think you are too damaged and too broken to allow yourself to be happy, but you can choose differently, Dean. You can choose to let me love you, to let me show you. That shouldn't be up to anyone else, do you understand? That can't be up to anyone else." He dares to bring his free hand up to Dean's face and gently stroke over his cheek. He can see how it makes the breath catch in Dean's throat and his smile softens. "I want to love you, Dean. But you must choose to let me. That's something only you can do. Good things...good things do happen. You deserve good things to happen. And more than anything I wish to be one of them. If you'd let me."

To say this speech leaves Dean dumbstruck would be an understatement. He knows he's staring, can't bring his body to stop, to move even one finger. Is this really what Cas believes? Is this...is this what Cas sees when he looks at him? 

Dean has a hard time believing it, with how different it is from what he sees in the mirror. He has a hard time not believing it, too, with the way Cas' voice sounds, the way his hands feel, the way his eyes are speaking even louder than his words. 

And there's a spark of hope, blue as the angel's eyes, somewhere in the thick, suffocating air of bitterness and disavowal. 

How do we forgive ourselves for all the things we did not become? Dean is far from anything he wanted for himself when he was young, far from anything he wants for himself now. He's even farther from anything he would want for Cas. But perhaps he still has time to make himself what he wants to be. With Cas, he already feels a little closer. If Cas could see it, maybe it's there. Maybe he could find it, too.

"I don't need you to be anything, Dean", Cas says just then, as if he'd read his thoughts. (He hadn't, though, Dean had once told him to stay out of his head, so he did. But he doesn't need his angelic power to know what's going on in the hunter's mind.) "I just need you to be you."

Dean swallows, licks his lips, opens his mouth. 

"Okay." His voice is quiet and husky, but it's there. It's enough to make Cas smile. And if it's enough to make Cas smile, it's enough for Dean. He tries a crooked smile himself, feels himself be guided forward gently, and then Cas is kissing him again, and it feels like a promise, a promise that Cas is right, a promise that Dean will try to see it. 

With the right person, kissing sometimes feels like healing.

Chapter Text

I don't need you to be anything, Dean. I just need you to be you.

Okay.

"Okay?" Cas' voice is serious, but the corner of his mouth twitches upwards and Dean nods.

"Yeah", he says, voice steady. "Okay."

The twitch stretches into a full smile, and the only thing Dean can think about is how much he wants to kiss that smile until it's a permanent resident on his angel's face. (His angel. Hell yes.) So he does. Because he can now. He's allowed to.

It doesn't take much for the kiss to grow more heated - Dean has a statement to make, tries to put everything he feels into the kiss, all the words he can't bring his lips to form.

I love you. I want to love you. I want to let you love me. I'll try. Don't give up on me. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Cas welcomes everything Dean has to give, and maybe he understands what Dean tries to tell him, can read the promises Dean paints with his tongue, for he becomes increasingly bolder and more confident in his own actions. The angel's fingers are long tangled in Dean's hair, the other arm slung around his waist to keep him close. When Dean needs to break away for air Cas wastes no time in exploring other places instead, his mouth wandering to leave a trail of kisses along Dean's jaw and to his ear, nibbling at the earlobe. The sharp intake of breath it elicits from the hunter makes Cas smirk against his skin - and when the hell did Dean ever see Cas smirk? He has no time to think about it though, because the next thing that happens is that he feels Cas nudge one of his knees between Dean's thighs, and holy shit they haven't even actually started yet and Dean feels like falling apart right there and then. He clutches at the angel's shoulders, a whimper ripping out of his throat, and fuck, since when does Dean Winchester whimper??

"Cas." His breath tickles over Cas' neck and leaves goosebumps in its wake. He kisses them away. "Want you."

"You have me." The words sound so innocent, falling from Cas' tongue that Dean is once more hit by the impossible wonder that the angel would mean them in the same way he does, and why can Cas still form coherent sentences anyway? (Let alone sound innocent with his leg pressing against Dean's crotch.) Dean decides that imbalance should be remedied as quickly as possible.

"Maybe we should move this to the bed", he suggests, drawing back to lock eyes with Cas.

There's a revealing mixture of emotions in Dean's eyes, fear infused with excitement, amazement, awe. It's the exact mirror of what Cas can feel brewing inside his own chest and it calms him to know that he isn't alone in this. It makes him think of how awe could turn into awful, a curious thing that something amazing could often be equally terrifying.

This though, this is a good kind of excitement.

Cas licks his lips and nods.

"Yes." He places a last quick peck on Dean's lips before he draws back completely. Dean smiles at him and immediately seems to lose some of the tension, and it's the hunter that takes his hand and leads him over to the bed, slowly urges him to lie down on the soft memory foam and follows to cover Cas' body with his own.

Their mouths easily find each other's by now, and Cas uses the advantage of their new position to hook one foot over Dean's legs that are slotted between his own. Dean moans against his lips at the pressure it provides, and before they know who started it, they've established a slow rhythm, grinding against each other, searching for friction through the barrier of their pants. Cas just contemplates the best method to reduce the number of annoying clothes separating them and reaches for the hem of Dean's shirt when the hunter breaks the kiss, searching his eyes.

"Is this okay?", Dean breathes against his mouth, stilling his hips. "It's not...it's not dangerous for you, is it?" Cas can watch the worry creeping over his face, into his voice. "I mean...I've been to Hell, Cas. And you're still an angel. An actual angel and I- y'know. Weren't there these guys that got their city burned 'cause they slept with angels or somethin'? Let alone the whole 'you shall not lie with another man' business, I just-"

Cas practically sees the cogwheels turning behind Dean's eyes, but he won't let them slot into the wrong place.

"Dean." He captures Dean's wrist when the hunter makes move to draw away, softly guides him back while Cas sits up enough to lean against the headboard. "Dean." He smiles softly, soothingly, cups the other man's face with both of his hands.

Dean nervously licks his lips, eyes wide and still dilated, but doesn't move away.

"Yeah?"

"If this is really what worries you", Cas says, stroking over one of Dean's cheeks with his thumb, "I promise you have nothing to fear. In Sodom and Gomorrah, they were raping angels. That's hardly the case here, I can assure you." Dean's mouth twitches, but there's still uncertainty in his eyes when Cas lets go of his face. "And both things you named are very Old Testamental, Dean. Those rules, they don't apply anymore, if they ever really did. The contract has been rewritten when my human brother came to earth. Believe me, sexual orientation is the last thing Heaven concerns itself with nowadays. But..." Cas presses his lips together, lowers his eyes. "If this is something that may bother you, for other reasons than antiquated biblical ones..."

"What? No!" Cas glances at Dean, and the way the hunter bites his lip betrays his words. "Cas that's not what I meant- "

"Because..." Cas knew they'd probably have to hold this conversation, but with the way things had developed so far, he'd hoped...Well. "I mean, technically, I'm an angel of the Lord with no gender identity, but I'm still in a male body, Dean. I know you may have...reservations to be with a male partner and I-"

"It's true", Dean cuts him off, reaching for one of Cas' hands. "I haven't done this before. But...You're not a male partner. You're Cas." He shrugs shyly, a lightness to his tone that makes the angel's heart flutter with affection. He smiles when Dean suddenly blushes, looking down at their hands for a moment while he tangles their fingers together.

"M-My Cas", Dean whispers then, glancing back up at Cas with a crooked smile.

And Cas...well, let's just say it's a good thing angels don't necessarily need to breathe.

"I...really like the sound of that." That's an understatement. A massive understatement.

"Me too." Dean keeps smiling, and Cas keeps melting, but then the hunter suddenly lets go of his hand and brings it up to rub his neck instead. "Sorry I killed the mood, buddy."

Buddy. Mhm. Somehow, the way it sounds now doesn't make Cas cringe anymore. Quite the contrary. It seems...fond. It seems loving.

"Is there a way to make you stop worrying all the time?"

"Dunno." Dean shrugs again, smirks at him. "Lobotomy?"

Cas rolls his eyes at him, but can't suppress the smile spreading across his own face when he leans back again, pulling Dean along at his shirt. The other man follows willingly, still smirking against Cas' lips when he kisses him. Cas makes it his personal mission to wipe that smirk off his face, and a well-placed hand on Dean's ass to get their bodies flush together certainly does the trick. He lifts his hips to get back to where they left off as soon as possible, but even though Dean responds, his movements seem guarded, less enthusiastic than before.

"Dean." Cas groans into his neck, presses a kiss to his hairline, "stop overthinking. Just..." He reluctantly pulls back with the need to meet those green eyes. "Just love me."

As it seems, that was the right thing to say. (Honestly, how could Dean deny such a request?)

Dean stares down at him for a moment, but then he nods and wastes no time before he leans down to leave a trail of open-mouthed kisses along Cas' neck and up to his shoulder, simultaneously pressing down to draw a moan from the angel's throat.

"Cas", Dean gasps when he tightens his grip on the hunter's butt, and isn't that the sweetest sound Cas has ever heard. It's just like all the times he hears his own name from Dean's lips, only better, so much better.

They hadn't been lovers before, not in the physical sense. But to Cas it feels as if they'd been lovers through different things, looks, expressions, thoughts. Lovers by inclination rather than by lust. (Not that lust is a problem, though.)

"Tell me. Tell me what you want, Dean."

His hands have finally found their way under the hem of Dean's shirt, gliding over his bare back.

"I- I want-" Dean has a hard time deciding what he wants first, to be honest. "I want you." (When I say I want you, I mean I want to hold you, feel your heart beat under my hands, hear your laughter and know that it's because of me, stare at your smile, dry your tears with my lips, fight your fears until you don't remember you had them. It means I want to know that I'm yours.)

"Perhaps you could be a bit more specific."

Okay, that's it. Being so eloquent at this point is nothing less than a damn crime.

"Can I- fuck!" He breaks off when Cas' teeth suddenly scrape the skin where his neck meets his shoulder, licking over the patch to soothe the burn. Damn, that's hot. He'd never minded stuff that bordered just a little on the right side of painful, but this is something else, when Cas does it, it's-

"You have free will, Dean", the angel's deep voice interrupts Dean's thoughts. "Whatever it is you want. It's all yours to take. Just tell me." And isn't that a new thought to consider. Preferably immediately.

"Off", he finally manages (oh, yeah, his own eloquence is seriously astounding), tugging at Cas' shirt, fumbling with the buttons. They interrupt their mouths' explorations in order to make quicker work of their clothes, Cas' shirt being the first that's carelessly discarded to the floor, soon followed by Dean's flannel and tee. His hands twitch with the need to touch, but he holds back for a moment, just lets himself look. Don't get him wrong, he (secretly) loves the trenchcoat, just because it's so Cas, but as far as Dean is concerned, that damn thing does far too much in order to conceal what's hiding underneath. His eyes sweep over the expanse of tan skin, the light definition of muscle that he can just imagine quivering under his fingers if he were to reach out. There are broad shoulders and sharp lines instead of soft curves, all smooth, solid planes and edges, and Dean finds that he's not missing anything. He'd wondered if it would be strange, if the hands on him will feel too big, the stubble and lack of boobs a reminder that this is wrong, but he feels nothing of the kind. It's not so different from being with a girl, and at the same time it's completely different, and he can't fucking wait to get to know each and every one of those delicious differences.

"Gorgeous", it slips Dean's lips, and Cas blushes. (Dean knows this isn't truly Cas, not all of him, not his true form, but it's not just a vessel, either. It's Cas' body now, as much as it once was Jimmy's, and he knows Cas has grown to see it as such. He likes it even, and well, so does Dean.) He follows the rosy colour as it spreads down the angel's chest, and Dean instinctively flashes a glance at Cas' pants as well. Getting rid of his own uncomfortable jeans is a tempting thought, but the obvious bulge displayed there makes him lose his nerves. Not that the thought of affecting Cas like that isn't the hottest thing ever, but... Shit, he's nervous. And aroused. And excited. And thrilled and scared and good and nervous and this is fucking terrifying and amazing and a lot. Like...a lot lot.

"Cas. Cas, I..."

"I know." Cas leans forward, places a closed-mouthed kiss on Dean's lips. "I feel the same way."

What way?, he asks himself. There are so many.

"What way?", he asks out loud, and Cas smiles.

"All of them."

Dean has no time to process that Cas basically just confirmed that they're in this together, that he knows, that he understands, because the next thing he does is catching Dean unawares again by switching their position and shoving him into the mattress with...well, not surprising strength, but surprisingly hot strength. Add that to his list of unexplored kinks, Dean thinks as the angel pins him down, blue eyes raking over his body.

Of course, Cas knows what Dean looks like. He had rebuilt his body in Hell, after all, had touched parts of Dean that he'd later barely dared to fantasize about. But it's so different, touching him now, knowing it's not only Dean's body, but Dean in his body, knowing that it's simply for pleasure, not mission.

Cas loses no time in taking advantage of the new possibilities it brings, lets his mouth explore while his hands hold onto Dean's wrists above the hunter's head. He moves down Dean's chest, leaving little kisses on every patch of skin he can reach, makes it his (new) mission to bestow every single freckle with the attention it deserves. He loves those freckles, loves the way they stand out when Dean blushes, loves that they're supposed to be angels' kisses. Cas is in no way opposed to testing that theory. He nibbles at a sensitive patch of skin just above Dean's navel and revels in the sounds it earns him, the way Dean writhes against his hands pinning him down. He can't wait for those hands to touch him, too, but not yet, he can be patient. His lips wander back up until they find one of Dean's nipples and he kisses it tentatively before giving it an experimental lick. Dean gasps out his name and struggles harder in Cas' grip and the angel smiles. He finally releases Dean and his hands instant fly down to tangle in Cas' hair, grip at his shoulder while the angel keeps worshipping him with his mouth.

"Oh God", Dean groans when Cas sucks, arching his back only to find the angel's pleasant weight on him disappear, head popping up with a raised eyebrow.

"Dean, would you please not moan my Father's name while we're doing this?", he asks dryly, looking down at a very dishevelled Dean who's just about to try and catch his breath. "How would you feel if I called you-"

"Yeah", Dean cuts him off, panting. "Got it. Point taken."

"Or...our son's name, now that I think about it", Cas has the nerve to go on completely seriously. "Both don't seem appropriate in a situation such as this. I'd much rather you leave my whole family out of our bed."

"Fine, fine. Now shut up and kiss me again." He tries to pull Cas down to him, desperate to continue what they were doing in...Our bedCas has said our- wait.

"Wait." He releases the angel with a jolt, staring up at him in horror. "You mean He can hear that? Every time someone says His name??"

Cas nods. "It's part of why you're taught not to take His name in vain. I imagine it must be rather troublesome."

And without giving Dean time to process all the fucking times he's apparently accidentally called out to- oh fuck no... that angelic son of a bitch leans down to press his mouth to Dean's jaw.

"Fuck", Dean breathes out and feels Cas hum against his neck.

"I'd like to. And preferably without an audience." He kisses the shell of Dean's ear, and the hunter can feel his hot breath there, the deep rumble of his voice. "Or further disturbances."

"Right. Yeah. Ok." Not that Dean's brain has really caught up with Cas just plain out saying he wants to- yeah, no, but he's on board, he's definitely on board.

As if on instinct, Dean reaches for Cas' pants, fingers fumbling awkwardly with the zipper. His hand is shaking, but Cas grabs it and presses soft kisses to his palm that make Dean feel things he doesn't want to think about too closely. He watches in wonder how his hand slowly stills in Cas', although he rather feels like trembling all over instead. There's a question in Cas' eyes when he releases Dean's hand again and the hunter nods, watching how the angel shrugs out of his pants before helping Dean discard his own, blue eyes never leaving his. There's heat in Cas' gaze that makes Dean's throat go dry, but their eye-contact is also calming, comforting in its familiarity. He lets Cas come to him once they're left in nothing but boxers, lets him plant a kiss on Dean's lips, slow and soft.

The next time Cas' eyes meet his, Dean nearly comes undone with the warmth that shines down at him, the open and undisguised love, and he realises that he knows that look. He'd just always been too wrapped up in his blanket of denial to take it for what it really is.

His lips turn up into a smile.

He's beautiful, Cas thinks not for the first time. In fact, he's thought it so many times and on so many different occasions that he lost count. Because Dean is always beautiful. He's beautiful when he laughs and beautiful when he hunts and beautiful when he fights and beautiful when he saves the world. He's beautiful in joy and in anger, in sadness and determination, in fear and exhaustion. He's beautiful every minute of every day, when he smiles just as much as in the depths of despair. Even when death had been knocking at the door, he'd still been beautiful.

Still beautiful, still Dean Winchester.

Is it Cas or is it Dean, this mistake in the universe? He shouldn't be able to tell, as an angel. Dean shouldn't be able to be this way, as a human. Is it love, then? Cas can't find any other explanation.

Maybe it's Dean's love that clings to him unlike any other being Cas has ever met, Dean's love that surrounds him and expands on everyone in his presence like mist descending on a forest, drops of it condensing on whoever Dean chooses to grace with a smile. Maybe it's Cas' love that's at fault. Maybe it's a combination of both. He doesn't really care. Whatever it is, he wouldn't want it any other way. He doesn't think he'd like a world where Dean ever stops being beautiful to him.

Cas takes his time, studies the lines of Dean's body longer than Dean is used to. (And that means something, considering the excessive amount of staring that had been going on since the day they met.)

"Beautiful", he says out loud for the first time since he'd learned how to think it, a smile tucking at the corners of his mouth when Dean blushes.

Well, Dean's never been called that before. It's not a word he would apply to himself. He feels like he should object, make a joke maybe, but doesn't find it in himself to do so. Because this is Cas, and when Cas says something, he means it. Dean kinda has no choice but to believe him. Not with Cas' voice so sincere, his eyes so full of adoration and love, and he can't help but admit that he likes this. All of this. Everything is strange and new with Cas, but it's just as it should be.

"I knew you would be. I saw your soul, when I-"

"Gripped me tight and raised me from perdition", Dean says, and it was supposed to sound teasing, but comes out through a fond smile instead.

"Yes", Cas smiles back. "It was so perfect, Dean. I should have known everything about you would be mirroring that beauty. A shame I was too much of an angel to appreciate it, then."

Dean swallows. What the hell is he supposed to say to something like that? He'd never understood it. How Castiel, angel of the Lord, had literally put his hands around that scarred soul of his, heavy with guilt and shame, and still found it to be worth saving. How Castiel, angel of the Lord, had faced all the undisguised ugliness, all its darkest corners, and decided that yes, this was worth disobeying every rule he'd ever known, this was worth falling from Heaven for. How Castiel, former angel of the Lord, had chosen this body he'd rebuilt from the very atom, this body and soul he knew every imperfect detail of, and chose it above any other to bestow his love upon. So what the hell is he supposed to say?

"Shut up", is what he lands on, because it seems like the only thing that might save him from dissolving in a very pathetic and very unmanly and very embarrassing stream of tears. He can feel them stinging in the corners of his eyes, threatening to spill over the longer he looks at that sweet angelic face so full of misplaced adoration, and he reaches up to press his mouth to Cas' (which will both make him shut up and is an excuse not to look at him anymore).

Cas welcomes his lips, deepens the kiss while he runs a hand over Dean's chest, follows each of his ribs. Cas had carved sigils there, years ago. The thought had been uncomfortable for Dean then, terrifying even. Now he feels something else entirely, imagining that Cas had left marks on him, in him. It feels like something natural, something that's supposed to be there, because of course there should be a physical reminder of Cas on Dean's body in addition to the deep imprint he'd left on his heart. He should never have healed that handprint.

As if reading his thoughts the angel breaks away, presses his lips to the corner of Dean's searching mouth before turning his attention to his neck instead. It's not the first time he's explored the skin there, but it's the first time he doesn't stop at a kiss. Dean gasps out the angel's name when Cas starts sucking, earning him a growl that goes straight to Dean's cock, and yes, his mind screams, don't stop, don't let go, don't-

"I always liked seeing my mark on you", Cas tells him, licking over the red patch he left. "Pretend that it made you mine just as much as I was yours."

Dean knows Sam will tease him about it, the smug little bitch, he'll have to take his shit for days (Seriously, Dean? A hickey?), but he really couldn't care less, not with the thought that he's being claimed by Cas, not with the knowledge that he'll finally get to wear Cas' mark again.

I was, he thinks. No pretence. I am.

"Are you, Cas? Mine?" Dean knows the answer. He still needs to hear Cas say it. And he does, without hesitation.

"I always was. Don't ask silly questions."

Dean doesn't understand it. He's long given up trying. But if he's what Cas wants, hell if he isn't going to offer every last broken piece of his self on a silver platter. His arms wrap around Cas' back by instinct, drawing him down, recapturing his mouth, every inch of bare skin flush together, and he arches up into him, needs to be closer, closer.

A nasty voice in the back of his mind hisses that what he's doing is pretty gay, but he tries to ignore it, lost in the feeling of Cas' perfect lips softly moving against his own.

Shut the fuck up, brainWhat does it even matter?

Dean's eyes widen at that thought and he breaks the kiss, panting in surprise. The realisation had come uninvitedly, but now that it's there, Dean's sure he'd actually felt that way for some time now. So what if it is gay? So what if he is gay? Or bi? Or whatever the right term is? (What good did labelling do, anyway?) This thing he has here, it doesn't feel weird or wrong or any of the other bad things he'd been taught to believe. It feels good. Pretty hot, to be completely honest. And above all - impossibly right.

His father is gone. He is gone and so is his grasp on Dean's life. He wouldn't allow that influence to haunt him, that fist that had been clenching at his throat, nearly suffocating him. He would banish that voice once and for all.

Sometimes, when a door closed in life, you should get nails and a hammer and make sure that the damn thing also stayed closed.

Sometimes people think they know you. They know a few facts about you, and they piece you together in a way that makes sense to them. People that should know you but don't, don't bother with actually seeing you, but try to build you in a way that pleases them instead. And if you don't know yourself very well, you might even believe that they're right. But the truth is, that isn't you. That isn't you at all.

Wanting to be yourself isn't a crime, wanting to be with someone who loves you for you, someone you don't have to compromise yourself for. It's okay not to be what other people expect, and maybe not even what you expected yourself. Accepting this side of himself...it doesn't change who he is. He's not different. He's just...more.

So-fucking-what if this is It for Dean? If Cas is It? (It, capital I and all that.)

Because this is Cas. This is Cas who he cares about more than anyone besides Sammy, this is Cas who had saved him more times than he could count or ever repay, this is Cas, his best friend Cas, sweet, innocent, brave, strong, perfect Cas - this is Cas who Dean loves.

And oh, he does. He does. And he knows it. He knows it with a certainty that takes his breath away. He'd known for a long long time, deep down, and when Cas (crazy, stupid, damn selfless Cas) had tried to sacrifice himself for him again, saying all these impossible, lovely, false things - Dean had known.

"Dean? Dean, are you alright?" Cas' brow is furrowed in worry, his voice hurried. "Did I do something-"

"I love you." It's barely more than a whisper, but for Dean Winchester, he may just as well have called it from a mountain for all the world to hear (while wrapped up in a pride-flag, surrounded by rainbow coloured confetti). "Fuck, Cas, I love you."

And Cas smiles at him, a smile so bright and full of love and joy that Dean could have cried and wouldn't even have cared. This is it. He knows. He'd arrived. He hadn't known what it was that he was searching for before he found it, but he knows he had. Cas is the answer to all of Dean's prayers (figuratively and also quite literally speaking) and for the first time in...ever, really, he feels like he belongs.

This is for him. Castiel, actual motherfucking angel of the lord is smiling like this because of the fucked-up wreck that is Dean Winchester, and he can't breathe. He surges forward, overcome by the desperate need to kiss Cas again, taste him on his tongue and fill his lungs with the scent of him. He needs it like he needs air and cheeseburgers and miraculously, Cas is just too willing to let him take as much as he desires.

Dean takes advantage, holds the angel's face, his angel's face, between his palms, scatters him with kisses wherever his lips can reach, and he's laughing, and it's sweet and passionate and silly and beautiful and free.

"Dean." Cas smiles at him once the hunter releases him, and Dean reaches up and draws the pad of his thumb over his bottom lip, watches in fascination how it catches there, lets his finger linger for Cas to press a kiss to it that makes Dean's heart flutter.

"I love you so frickin much, you know that?" Now that he's started saying it, he doesn't seem to be able to stop. Maybe his body tries to make up for all the times he's thought it but was too much of a coward to actually say it out loud.

"I'm beginning to get an idea." 

"Good." I want you to know. You need to know how loved you are, how wanted. Dean smiles, lets his thumb wander from to corner of Cas' mouth to stroke gently over his cheek. He hasn't done that before. Cas has done it to him, but never Dean. "C'mere, then. So I can show you further."

This time when they're kissing, it starts slow and gentle, grows and develops - a carefully kindled flame that fuels into something hot and devouring until they're both hard and panting again, grasping at each other's skin, desperate mouths finding each other, trailing off again, kissing and licking and sucking wherever they happen to land. Dean has no idea how long they've gone on like this, it could be hours, days, he wouldn't care. All he knows is that suddenly, the friction of Cas grinding down against him isn't enough anymore.

"Dean", Cas moans out when Dean finally, finally reaches down to press his palm to the obvious bulge in Cas' boxers, the thin fabric doing nothing to conceal their arousal.

"Can I-"

"Please", Cas hisses, and Dean wastes no time before he frees them both of the last remaining items of clothing. He pushes Cas to lie on his back and the angel instantly reaches for Dean to follow, welcomes him in his arms and they moan in unison when their erections brush together. They enjoy the pressure for a moment, perfectly lined up, the feeling of skin on skin. Then Dean reaches between them, takes them both in hand, and Cas bucks his hips and throws his head back with a moan of something that could be Dean's name. He leans down to capture the angel's mouth in a kiss, swallows all those sweet sounds Cas is making, because why shouldn't he, they're his to own, anyway.

"Dean." It doesn't take long before Cas' hips are bucking wildly, his legs shaking with the effort not to wrap them around Dean's waist. Instead, he places one of his hands over Dean's, brings him to slow their movements. "Dean, stop. I don't-" He catches his breath for a moment, feels the desperation cool down to a dull ache. "Don't want it to be over yet."

"Yeah." Dean closes his eyes, forces his hips to still. His body is screaming at him to go on, to chase that high he feels himself slowly retreating from, but he knows Cas is right. He's past his forties, for fuck's sake (pun not intended), and as amazing as this is, it's not enough. And he doesn't want to wait, doesn't want to deny himself any longer. "Actually, I-I thought..."

He feels himself blush, but swallows his embarrassment, maybe even a bit of his pride. He knows what he wants. Cas said he only has to tell him. 

"Dean?" Cas furrows his brow when Dean lies down next to him, urging the angel to roll over on top of him again. His hand feels for one of Cas' and he bites his lip when he guides it down, up his thigh and to that place to indicate what he doesn't know how to ask for with words.

Cas' eyes widen when he understands, a mixture of wonder, awe and worry rushing through him as he stares down at Dean in surprise. It would be a lie to say Cas hasn't thought of this, but he would never have taken more than Dean would offer. Now that he has, it doesn't seem real. It's just now that he realizes how badly he wants Dean like this, but he's hesitant, overwhelmed with a craving that has been distant for so long that he's afraid to reach out for it now. 

"Please, Cas." Dean says his name like a goddamn prayer, but no, Cas has heard him pray, has heard him pray to him, and it's more than that now - it's like a cry for help and a plea and a promise and a vow all at once.

"Are you sure, Dean?" Cas brings their joined hands back up and presses a kiss to Dean's palm. "We don't have to. Or you could-"

"No." Dean shakes his head. "I'm sure. Fuck, I've been sure for so long. Please, I..." He presses his lips together, gaze open and vulnerable. "I want it to be you."

"Okay." It's a whisper, drawn from the angel's throat by the look in Dean's eyes, that muddle of longing, nervousness and determination, and he knows this is the right thing when Dean smiles in relief.  

"Okay." Dean keeps looking at him for a moment, keeps smiling, before he gestures to the side of the bed with his nightstand. "There's lube in the top drawer."

"Oh, yes, I...I'd like to explore that some time too", Cas says truthfully, carefully, nervous but determined, "but for now, I had something else in mind."

Dean swallows, but nods, doesn't even ask what Cas' plan entails, simply lies back to entrust himself to Cas' care. The angel keeps his eyes on the hunter's face when he slowly lets his hand wander back to its destination, watches closely for any signs of discomfort, and Dean releases a long breath as he tries to relax. There's a pleased sigh when Cas strokes down his side, follows the path of freckles as they thin out more and more along the way. A glance at Dean tells Cas that his eyes are closed and he lets his own gaze wander over that perfect body he's miraculously allowed to touch. Just as his fingers stroke over the inside of Dean's thigh, though, a hand suddenly shoots to grab his wrist, stills his movement.

"C-Cas?"

Dean has lifted his head, his eyes mirroring the nervous, questioning tone of his voice, and Cas feels a soft smile form on his lips. 

"I know, Dean." He takes that hand that keeps him from continuing, squeezes it reassuringly. "I'll be gentle. I'd never hurt you."

Dean presses his lips together and nods, letting his head fall back when he feels a treacherous wetness stinging in his eyes. That's it. He's a fucking teenage girl on the inside. But he doesn't give a shit, because he wants this. He wants all the gentleness and care that Cas has to give. And as it seems, Cas has a lot to give. So why not just take it? If Cas wants to give, why not just let himself enjoy it for once? Why the fuck not?

So Dean melts into the angel's touch, those divine hands that wander over him with such tenderness, not as if he were something breakable, but something precious and worthy. Dean wants to sob from it and just as he has that thought, he realises that he does. The stinging in his eyes has transformed into drops running down his face. He doesn't know when he started to cry, he doesn't know when (if) he will stop, he doesn't try to. Because Cas is moving up his body, soft blue eyes meeting his, and then the angel leans down and kisses the damp trails on his cheeks, his eyelids, his temples. Cas is murmuring words as he does, quiet and soothing. Dean could swear it's Enochian. And even though he doesn't understand it, he can feel the meaning through the touch of Cas' lips all over his face and neck, promises pressed into his skin like the mark once left on his shoulder. Dean lets it happen, welcomes it, the feeling of peace and quiet that settles in his body and mind. He doesn't know if it's Cas' words or the crying or something else entirely, maybe it's a combination of all - the only thing he knows is that he has no clue how he's gone on so long without it.

Cas had miarcled the storm to quieten. Not literally (though Dean was not entirely sure Cas couldn't have done that too, theoretically), the storm Dean had both fought and nourished in himself for as long as he could remember. The thing with storms though, was that once they were over, you wouldn't even remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even remember how the storm started or be sure whether it's really over. The only certainty is that when you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what storms are all about. And he didn't ever want to go back. Not when this is what he got now.

He gasps when finally a finger carefully brushes his rim, just featherlight touches to let him get used to the feeling. He's done this to himself before, a few guilty hours he's spent fantasizing about this exact scenario, but he'd never let someone else. It's a lot more intense that way, maybe because he doesn't know when to expect the next brush of fingers, maybe simply because it's Cas. Dean closes his eyes, concentrates on relaxing, the sound of Cas' gentle voice that whispers soothing nothings into his ear. When he finally presses a finger inside, it's accompanied by a surge of warmth, a tingling sensation that spreads through Dean's whole body and wakes goosebumps on his skin. 

"What-?" He opens his eyes, meets the soft blue. "Did you just use your angel-mojo to-"

Cas smiles and blushes just a little. 

"Yes", he admits, biting his bottom lip. "Is that okay? Maybe I should have asked. But I supposed it might be easier and...more pleasant."

"No. I mean yeah. It was fine. It was...good. I-I liked it." Dean grins a little sheepishly. "Go on?"

Cas takes his time, lets Dean a few moments to adjust to each new intrusion, the slight burn that comes with being stretched. But it's a pleasant pain, smoothed over by the powers of angel grace until it's reduced to a slight sting that wakes anticipation for what is about to come after. By the time Dean can easily take three fingers inside him, he's breathing hard and writhing against Cas' hand, his own fingers twisted in the angel's hair or the sheets. He groans when Cas hits that spot again that sends a jolt of hot pleasure through his body, and he pulls the angel into a kiss, desperate for more, more closeness, more connection, more Cas

"Should I turn over?", Dean asks as soon as they're breaking away, a flicker of something in his eyes, but Cas shakes his head.

"If that's how you want to do it, we can. I know it's said to be easier, but...if you don't mind...I'd really like to be able to look at your face." 

Dean smiles at that, grabs Cas' jaw to pull him down for another quick kiss. 

"Me too, Cas."

"Do you want me to...?" The angel nods to the drawer again.

"You can't catch diseases, can you?"

"No."

"Then leave it", Dean says immediately, and Cas has to bite his lip to hold back a moan.

Wordlessly, he pulls a pillow from the top of the bed and places it under Dean's hips to make him as comfortable as possible. He swallows when the hunter spreads his legs, inviting him to settle between them and position himself at his entrance.  

"Ready?" Dean nods and Cas releases a shuddering breath, rests his forehead against Dean's. "Are you sure about this?", he asks, has to ask, even now that he's trembling with anticipation. Dean nods again, which somehow, is not enough. "You have to tell me. Please, I need to hear it." He rolls his head to the side, presses their warm cheeks together. "Say yes, Dean", he whispers in his ear and Dean shudders.

"Yes", he breathes, and as the word leaves his mouth, he realises that Cas is following angel's laws, asking permission, asking Dean to give himself over into his angel's hands, surrendering his whole body to Cas' care. "I trust you. Please."

Instead of an answer, Cas kisses him, but it conveys all the hunter needs to know. He gasps into the angel's mouth as soon as he feels Cas slowly easing in, buries his fingers in Cas' back, sure to leave marks. But the angel keeps kissing him through it, distracts him until the initial burn is replaced by pleasure, a sense of connection and unity once Cas is settled inside him.

"Alright?" Damn, Cas sounds breathless, he's panting hard, brow furrowed in concentration.

"Awesome." Cas relaxes a little at that, manages to smile down at him before stealing a quick kiss. 

"Tell me if I hurt you", the angel whispers before he carefully starts to move and Dean's eyes flutter shut. It's slow and gentle and agonizingly tender, and Dean has been with a lot of people in his life, he's fucked with a lot of people in his life, even slow and tender, but not like this. He knows this is a damn cliché, and it's chick-flicky times three, and he sounds corny as shit but the only appropriate term that comes to his mind about what they're doing is making love. 

And damn, he embraces it. He's never been in love with any of the people he's been with, he's never been taken care of like this, he's never allowed himself to let them. He does now. 

"Dean." Cas' voice is rough and breathless, his hair a mess from Dean's fingers carding through it, his skin flushed and sweaty. It's the most gorgeous sight Dean ever laid eyes on.

"Say it again", he pants, pleads in the space between them. "Please, Cas, say my name."

"Dean."

Dean groans against his lips, the sound of the rough deep voice, the needy quality of it is driving him insane. He doesn't know what to do with himself, where to settle his eyes, his hands, what sensation to focus on. It's overwhelming and not enough at the same time, he feels his legs wrapping around Cas' waist to urge him on, to pick up the pace, give him more, anything. They continue like that, emotions welling up after years of captivity, now conveyed in kisses that only break when one of them needs air. 

It's sweet and passionate and great and incredible and amazing and...all the adjectives. 

Because Cas.

"Fuck", he pants when he shifts his hips slightly, the new angle causing Cas to nudge that spot again. His back arches off the bed and he blindly grabs Cas' hands, searching for support. To his great frustration, Cas falters in his rhythm, his worried voice ripping Dean out of his haze.

"Did I hurt you? Should I stop? Dean??"

"Geez, Cas, no!" Dean tightens his legs around Cas' waist, pulls him in, doesn't care how needy he looks. He intertwines their fingers, squeezes the angel's hands. "Please, anything, but don't you dare stop!"

Thankfully, Cas doesn't need to be told twice, quickly recovering and taking off where they left, causing Dean to throw his head back against the pillow in the few seconds before soft lips capture his again. The feeling of something building inside him is back, and he knows it's not gonna take long, not with the combined sensation of Cas moving inside him and the friction of his cock trapped between their bodies. 

"You almost there, Cas?"

"Almost where?"

Dean really has no time or energy for a fond chuckle now. 

"Nevermind, just-"

Cas complies by picking up his pace, constantly trying for the right angle to give Dean the most pleasure. He clutches at Dean, so hard it's just bordering on painful, both too lost in each other to care. Dean welcomes it - there's something grounding about the feeling of being held together when he thinks he's gonna fly apart. 

When he does, it's with a shout of Cas' name (Castiel, it escapes his lips, a name he barely ever uses by now), and the angel carries him through it, drinking in the noises escaping Dean's throat. 

He manages to open his eyes to find the angel's closed, reaches up with the need to see him, to watch everything he can, engrave it in his memory.

"Cas, look at me", he asks, and Cas obeys immediately, blue eyes dark and misty with pleasure and exhaustion. "Please, try to stay with me, ok?"

Cas kisses him in response before burying his face in Dean's neck.

"It's ok, Cas." He threads his fingers through the dark locks, pulls just enough to elicit a gasp. "Let go for me. I got you. I'm not gonna let you fall (not again)", Dean tells him, and he smiles, and yes, Cas gets it now. The reason humans get so obsessed with it. He hadn't understood that time with April, it hadn't been anything like this, then. This is ridiculous, impossible, wonderful.

Then Cas let out the most filthy moan Dean has ever heard (and he's seen a lot of porn), his movements stuttering, mouth pressed to Dean's throat as he comes to lie on top of the hunter. Dean wraps him up in his arms, strokes soothingly down his back while Cas trembles and mumbles into Dean's neck. He doesn't catch all of it, but he doesn't have to, he says it back anyway, because he finally can.  

Later that night, Dean is going to end up falling asleep in Cas' arms while his angel watches over him, a sleep deeper and more peaceful than any he's had in ages. Not yet, though. For now, they have each other's closeness to enjoy, sloppy kisses and tender touches to share, and hours to spend in lazy contentment. 

For now, they have nothing to do but just...being. 

Chapter Text

"You called me Castiel."

Cas rolls onto his side to be able to look at Dean as they lie snuggled up under the covers of the hunter's bed. (A wave of the angel's hand had taken care of cleaning them up and putting their boxers back on, to which Dean had lifted his eyebrows but then shrugged, pleased to just lie down and enjoy the afterglow.) 

"No one really calls me Castiel anymore", Cas says, lost in thoughts. "Not here, not out of Heaven."

Dean lies on his back, blanket drawn up to his waist, his head settled on one of his arms. He's staring at the ceiling, but Cas can see the frown furrowing his brow before his head turns around to lock eyes with the angel.

"If you don't want me to-"

"No, it's- it's fine." Cas smiles, pleased to note that Dean's features relax instantly. "It reminds me of who I was before", he says truthfully, gaze drifting off to nothing as he tries to put into words what he's feeling. "But...when you say it, it's different. Like you tell me that's not who I am anymore. That I'm never gonna be that way again."

You changed me, Dean...

There's a smile tugging at the corner of Dean's mouth, understanding and empathetic. 

"Just...follow orders, a soldier created to obey." Cas lowers his eyes, tangles his fingers with Dean's, concentrates on their hands as he speaks. "You could say I've been Daddy's blunt instrument, too." 

And I don't care if Heaven won't take me back. I don't want them to. Don't you see that I threw away my faith for you? Just to keep you safe. I knew what I was fighting for. I knew it was worth it. And I was right. 

Cas didn't belong to Heaven anymore. He certainly didn't belong to Chuck anymore. He belonged to the family he'd found here, the family he'd helped to make. And above all, he belonged to Dean.

He hadn't fallen from grace. He'd leapt to freedom.

"But not anymore." Cas' voice is sure and steady when he looks back up, meets the green eyes he knows have been watching him. "I think for myself now, make my own decisions, with you. There are no other places for me to be, no other people to care for, to care about. There never were. Everyone I need is right here. And I wouldn't have it any other way." He breathes out, a sigh of relief, an act of freedom. "I've existed for millennia, Dean, but I didn't live until I met you." 

Not until I fell in love with you echoes clearly thought the silence following Cas' declaration, and he can see how Dean presses his lips together when he nods, tries to hold back the tears forming in the corner of his eyes. 

"I had hundreds of brothers and sisters, but they were never family. Not like we are."

"Family, yeah." Dean swallows, but then a grin spreads over his face, chasing the heavy atmosphere away. "Though I don't usually make a habit of sleeping with family members."

Cas laughs, a sound Dean gets to hear far too rarely. He hopes to change that in the future, now that he can openly try to coax it out of him. He always had been keen on trying, a smile here, a chuckle there, a moment of shared joy in passing, unremarkable and fleeting. Now he can devote his life to this task, no need to cover up anymore that it's his greatest pleasure to be the cause of Cas' happiness. 

"I would hope not", the angel chuckles, eyes beaming just the way Dean wants them to. The hunter lifts a teasing eyebrow, lips curled in a smirk.

"What? You callin' dibs, Cas?"

Cas tilts his head (something he can somehow do to the usual effect even lying down), looking at him for a long moment. And Dean's stupid heart has absolutely no business beating so hard in his chest as he waits for his answer, realising just now what he's been thoughtlessly saying in his hazy state.

"I believe I am", Cas finally declares, and even though it's said in jest, there's a heavy undertone to it, a seriousness that makes something warm settle in Dean's chest, loosening the knot there. He feels a smile spreading across his face and he follows the urge to lean forward and press a soft kiss to the angel's lips. 

"Now you hang from my lips like the gardens of Babylon...", he mumbles half in thought once they separate, hovering only inches apart. Even up close he can see Cas' confused frown.

"That's not from the Bible. What is that?"

"Uh, nothin'." Dean pulls back, forces his cheeks not to blush and give him away. If the way Cas crooks an eyebrow at him has anything to say, he's not very successful.

"It's nothing", Dean insists, rolling away on his back. "Just something that reminded me of you." 

He hears the rustling of sheets, the mattress dipping down next to him when Cas shifts to lean up on one of his elbows, looking down at him. He tries to avoid the stare of those curiously squinted blue eyes that seem to bore into him, presses his lips together as if that could seal the embarrassing truth away. But of course, Cas is Cas, and Dean is Dean, and that means he's weak in the face of that look.

"Okay, okay", he blurts out, rather dramatically throwing an arm over his eyes with a groan. "It's Taylor Swift. Happy now?"

"Taylor Swift?" He can't see it, but he thinks there might be a smile in Cas' voice.

"It's a song about cowboys, okay?", Dean starts a poor attempt at justification. "Gives it musical anonymity."

"Is that so?" Okay, there's definitely a smile in Cas' voice. Maybe even a smirk. Dean lifts his arm to throw a glance at his face, and yep, there it is. 

"Just shut up." He lets his arm fall back down, eyes buried in the crook of his elbow, and hears Cas huff out a chuckle. 

"Never wanted love, just a fancy car? ", he hears then, a deep hum right next to his ear. "That does rather sound like you, doesn't it." 

Dean's head snaps out from under his cover.

"You bastard!" He stares at Cas, mouth open. "You knew what it's from!" Cas has the audacity to grin at the accusation, shrugging innocently, and Dean just wants to wipe that smug look from his face when the angel shuts him up with a kiss. Cas already knows how to play him, it seems, for he's just physically unable to do anything but melt into the kiss, his annoyance melting away with it.

"You have to learn to close your tabs, you know", Cas says once they part, an amused sparkle in his eyes that draws a chuckle from Dean's lungs after all.

"Son of a bitch." He smoothes a hand over his face, shakes his head. "First thing in the morning we're getting you your own laptop for doin' research."

"Do as you will, but you can't make this unseen, Mr Swiftie."

Dean falls back into the cushions, groans in defeat.

"Caaaas." Cas grins wider. "I guess that's it then", Dean says, theatrically lifting his arms and letting them fall down again. "My carefully preserved womanizer-meets-bad-boy image destroyed, my pride and dignity shattered at your feet. RIP." 

Cas rolls his eyes but can't hold back a fond smile.

"Such a drama queen." 

"You love it." 

Cas sighs, and Dean smirks. 

"For some reason that escapes my understanding, I do."

"I love you, too." Dean revels in how easy it is to say it now, revels in the soft smile that forms on Cas' face, revels in the way he responds when Dean leans up to kiss him again. (Those lips are just damn addictive.) 

No reason to forget that his dignity's at stake here, though. Dean lifts a finger, pointing it meaningfully at Cas' chest.

"But I swear Cas, one word of this to Sammy-", he begins, breaking off when Cas lets himself fall back in the cushions and dissolves in the first honest fit of laughter he's had in ages.

~oOo~

"You gonna watch over me, Cas?", Dean says into the silence at some point, Cas snuggled into his side, angelic fingers drawing lazy patterns on Dean's bare chest. (Enochian protection sigils, Cas had said when Dean asked, only then realizing it himself.) Dean's eyes have been heavy for some time now, his body warm and comfortable, but he hadn't wanted to leave consciousness just yet, wanted to draw out this moment of quietness and perfection for as long as possible. The clock on his nightstand says 4 am by now and he knows he's going to lose the fight against tiredness sooner or later.

"If I may." Cas sounds surprised but pleased at Dean's offer. "I do enjoy it a great deal."

"Mhm." Dean never got that. He'd even told Cas more than once that it's creepy. He feels a bit guilty about that now, the image of a sleeping Cas popping up in front of his inner eye. Of course the angel doesn't sleep, but if he would...well. Perhaps Dean gets it after all. 

"Could you-" The craving inside him forms words before he's even finished the thought. He blushes slightly, grateful that Cas' head is still tucked under his chin so he won't see. "Maybe hold me while you do it?", Dean presses out in a rush, biting his lip when Cas lifts himself up on one elbow, smiling softly.

"Of course, Dean. I'd love to."

Dean lets the breath he's been holding leave his lungs and follows Cas' gesture to turn around, unable to suppress the sigh of contentment that escapes him when the angel's arm settles around him, drawing his back closely against Cas' chest.

"Someone likes being the little spoon", Cas whispers, just a hint of a tease speaking out of his affectionate tone. 

"Shuddup." Dean grumbles into his pillow, but grabs Cas' hand and wraps his arm even more tightly around his chest, intertwining their fingers. "Everyone likes being the little spoon. Feels safe."

"You're always safe when you're with me."

"I know, Cas. Thanks." It's true. They've both done stupid shit. They've both done extraordinarily stupid shit. But always because they though it'd be the right thing. Always because they thought it would protect the other. They have to work like that. The way they'd led their life leaves no room to look after yourself. If they don't look after each other, who will? 

Is that what's up with the sleeping? Cas watching over him in every waking (and apparently also sleeping) hour? Cas making sure that he's safe, even if from a distance?

"Cas?"

"Yes, Dean?"

"You really like it that much? Watchin' me sleep?"

Cas presses a light kiss to his shoulder.

"Yes."

"Can I ask- Why?"

"Oh." There's a moment of silence while Dean waits for Cas to go on, a frown furrowing his brow at the long pause. "I...I'm not convinced you'd want to know", Cas says then, and something about the hesitant quality of his voice makes Dean turn onto his back, catching Cas biting his lip in embarrassment.

"Ah, Cas", Dean grins and wobbles his eyebrows, trying to get a smile out of the blushing angel. "Is it something kinky?"

Cas gives him that look, the Cas-look that's reserved just for Dean and seems to say Seriously now?, but there's a familiar fondness tugging at the corners of his mouth. 

"No, Dean", he says, pretending to be annoyed. "It's...not that sort of thing. It's kind of intimate, though." He sighs, his features shifting into something softer, more serious. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Dude. We literally just had sex and you're afraid of making me uncomfortable because it's too intimate?" Dean squeezes the hand he's still holding, looks up at Cas with an encouraging smile. "Come on. Tell me."

"You're right." Cas nods, but can't keep the rosy colour from spreading down his chest when he lowers his eyes to their joined hands, playing with Dean's fingers. "It's just...I like watching you because you look... calm. Peaceful." It's barely a whisper, careful, sincere. "I don't get to see that a lot, when you're awake, you know."

"Cas..." Dean swallows around the sudden lump in his throat, his voice leaving him completely when soft blue eyes find his own.

"It's not your fault", Cas says, because of course Cas would tell him that. He knows about the unreasonable sting of guilt inside him before Dean even noticed it himself. "It's just nice to see you without worry or pain written all over your face. And at night...I guess I can just enjoy that look for a while, get lost in the fantasy that you could always look as...free."

The admission leaves Dean more speechless than he anticipated when he asked, but that's just what Cas does. Whatever he expects, the angel always manages to surprise him with something more, larger, deeper

"Oh- Okay." Dean swallows again. "You...yeah, y'know, you- you can watch me, if you'd like."

The honest smile spreading across Cas' face plays before Dean's eyes long after he's already turned in the angel's arms again, long after his eyes have closed to welcome sleep. 

Thank you, Dean is the last thing he hears before he's swallowed by a comfortable darkness. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

There's an arm slung around his waist when Dean wakes up the next morning. Still half lost in the dozy haze of his dream (it had been a wonderful dream, too wonderful to be true, Cas had been there, they'd finally talked and then...then...) he realises that the arm is strong, muscular, very male and he freezes instinctively. 

What is happening?  Warm breath ghosts over his ear and neck where he can feel goosebumps forming on his skin. And oh fuck that means he's cuddling. With a man. And he's the fucking little spoon. But worst of all - he likes it. What the he-

"Hello, Dean."

Dean's eyes widen at the familiar deep rumble and he can't stop himself from rolling over, bringing himself face to face with a very dishevelled (very sexy) and very adorable angel. And just like that, meeting those warm blue eyes makes the memories of last night flood his brain and Dean can feel the huge smile spreading across his face.

"Heya, Cas." Cas smiles back, and he's beautiful and he's warm and he's here right in front of him.

"Have you any idea how long I've imagined how it would be to wake up next to you?", Dean asks before he can stop himself, speaking the first thing that came to his mind at the picture before him, the giddy feeling in his stomach making his tongue loose and reckless. Cas doesn't answer, but he smiles a smile that looks like he might have a very specific idea himself. 

"We're a couple of dumbasses", Dean says, the grin on his face mixing with the regret he feels about wasting so much time. When he thinks about how long he could have had this if he just hadn't been such a coward, how long he denied himself, how long he denied them both.

I'm sorry, it hovers at the tip of his tongue, but the shy smile on the angel's face cuts him off.

"I prefer a...couple", Cas says slowly, looking up at Dean through dark lashes, and holy shit Dean's heart has just started running a marathon in his chest. He nods breathlessly, watches how the hopeful uncertainty in Cas' eyes morphs into undisguised delight, and the open love and affection does decidedly lightheaded things to Dean.

"My angel...", he hears himself say, an adventurous finger dares to sweep over Cas' jawline and to his bottom lip. When Cas catches his hand to kiss the fingertip, Dean thinks he might actually explode. (Or maybe faint, fuck the chick-flicking. People in actual caring relationships are allowed to be chick-flicky.)

"It wasn't a dream, then?", Dean mumbles, half joy, half wonder. "This is real?"

"Yes, Dean. It is."

Dean closes his eyes when he leans their foreheads together, nods.

"Yeah", he breathes. "We are."

Chapter Text

"Now." Dean grins at Castiel, leaning up to steal another kiss. "All I need is a little bacon, a little coffee, and a lot of you."

"Is that so?" Cas smiles down at him, an eyebrow crooked in amusement. "Well, how convenient for you that we can easily arrange all three."

"Shower first, though." Dean rolls reluctantly out of bed, following the demanding rumble his stomach has been producing for the better half of an hour. He walks over to the bathroom door, his bare feet making tapping sounds on the floor. He's still just in his boxers, but doesn't mind one bit when he feels Cas' eyes following him. The corner of his mouth quirks up into a smirk when he stops with one hand against the bathroom door, an impossible (but impossibly enticing) thought popping up in his head at the burn of that blue gaze on his skin. Damn him, that angel is gonna be the death of him.

"You...ah. You comin' too?", he says cautiously, deliberately keeping his back to Cas who he knows is splayed out on the bed -his bed, no, their bed- in the most Cas way (read: obliviously sexy way) possible.

"I don't require showers, Dean." (There. Oblivious.)

"Yeah. Yeah, I know. I just thought..." He turns a bit and tries to casually lean with his hip against the doorframe in what he hopes will turn out to be a suggestive manner, but fails miserably. Jesus, it's not as if he was flirting for the first time or something. He's very good at it. Usually. He's very good at it with random women in random bars. With particular angels on particular mornings...well, not so much as it seems.

The edge of the doorframe is biting into his hipbone and the arms he's crossed in front of his chest feel too heavy. And Cas...well, Cas is looking at him with his confused squint. Maybe he's wondering what exactly Dean's doing there. Dean's starting to wonder himself. He straightens up, clears his throat to cover up his embarrassment.

He could just ask. He could just say it and he's sure Cas would say yes, and if only to indulge him. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Geez, it shouldn't be a bid deal, after last night...should it? Maybe not. It is anyway, though. Because this is all still new, and this is Cas, and this is something Dean doesn't do. Dean isn't still there in the morning. Dean doesn't sleep spooning and cuddles and exchanges lazy kisses before getting up together. Dean doesn't stay and ask for shared showers after a night of lovemaking.

Except that apparently, Dean does all that now.

Right. Fuck.

He wants to do it. He can't do it.

"You know what, never mind." He just wants to disappear through the door as quickly as possible when a sigh from Cas stops him.

"Don't do that."

"What?"

"Don't hold back", Cas says softly, and Dean closes his eyes with one hand against the door. "Don't shut me out, Dean. Not after this."

Of course, Cas is right. As per usual.

Dean turns, nods, bites his lip.

"See, I just thought it'd be nice, you know. Together." He tries to make it sound suggestive, inviting, but he can clearly hear the nerves seeping through his voice, and he knows Cas hears it too.

"Showering together", the angel states, sounding surprised but not averse to the thought

"Yeah."

Cas tilts his head, and Dean is sure his heartbeat stops for the few seconds before he answers.

"I'd like that", he says then, smiling. "Very much."

"You would?" Dean swallows, watching Cas get up from the bed as well, watches the muscles play under his skin when he walks over.

"Of course, Dean."

Oh, damn. Okay.

"Okay, then."

Cas takes his hand and practically pulls him into the bathroom before closing the door with a little smile that has Dean subconsciously lick his lips.

They don't even need to have sex.

Now. Again. Yet. In the shower (that's too complicated anyway). You get it. At some point, definitely, but...wait, what was he thinking?

A yeah. It's gonna be sufficient to have him there, have him in his sight - living, breathing proof that all of this happened, is still happening. Yeah, that's all Dean wants at the moment.

Probably.

~oOo~

"Mornin'..."

Sam and Eileen are already in the kitchen preparing breakfast when Dean strolls through the door, wrapped in his favourite robe, hair still damp from the shower he (they, hehe) had just taken. Sam exchanges a meaningful look with Eileen when Cas enters right behind his brother, in quite an obvious and equal state of undress.

Dean comes trotted up behind him, throwing a glance over Sam's shoulder to look at the pans he's handling, grumbling when he finds them fully occupied with scrambled eggs.

"Hey! Where's the bacon?" Dean gives him a grumpy look. "A man needs his meat in the morning, ok?"

"I bet you do", Sam can't help but mumble under his breath, turned in Eileen's direction, grinning when she tries to cover up the snort of laughter escaping her by coughing into her fist rather conspicuously.

"What?" Dean lifts an eyebrow, but Sam just smiles.

"Nothing."

Dean huffs, but shrugs his shoulders before walking over to the fridge, surely to retrieve his sacred bacon.

"Coffee, Cas?" Sam gestures to the already boiling  coffee machine.

"That would be nice, Sam."

Sam nods at the (rather dishevelled) angel who's already sat down at the table and abandons his pans for a second to pull a mug out of the cupboard. He's just filled it and wants to grab it from the counter when Dean's suddenly beside him, snatching his wrist.

"Nono, not that one." His brother takes the cup from Sam, puts it back down and reaches into the cupboard himself. "He...ah. He likes the green ones." Sam smirks to himself at the blush that rises in Dean's cheeks at his own words, watching how Dean pours coffee into an emerald green mug before picking it up with the blue one Sam had prepared, mumbling what Sam hears as "I'll take that one myself."

Dean strolls over to the table, setting the green mug down in front of Cas who shyly smiles up at him, a faint streak of colour visible on the angel's cheeks as well.

"Thank you, Dean."

"Sure thing, buddy." Dean grins at him and Sam almost thinks to see him wink while he takes a sip of his coffee, but maybe he just imagined that.

Okay, so apparently Dean still calls him man and buddy and pal and Sam simply can't believe the insane amount of sexual tension his brother could infuse in those words (especially after the tension had already been resolved! He had to know. Dean and Cas weren't exactly subtle in their room. Or quiet. Ew.)

They also apparently don't plan to make any sort of announcement or hold a speech or throw a party or whatever is appropriate after you get your head out of your ass after twelve years of pining. Fine. Good thing Sam already knows anyway.

It had been quite the discovery when he and Eileen had come across Dean's room last night, being met with a quite familiar item of clothing that had Sam almost popping his eyes out while Eileen had started to slap his arm in excitement.

"No way", she had silently mouthed at him, and Sam had been too stunned to answer anything at all for a moment. That was until he'd heard the sounds coming through the door. Apparently, his dumbfounded expression had contorted so quickly into one of absolute horror that Eileen instantly knew what was going on, biting her arm to stifle her laughter.

"Bet now you wish you were deaf too", she'd giggled, ripping Sam out of his trance with a snort.

"Guess we'll just have to drown them out", she'd grinned, tugging at Sam's arm in direction of his -their- room, and well, that had been about everything he could remember of his brother's escapades for some time. Some time. Much to Sam's misfortune though, a decade of built-up tension seemed to cause quite an...impressive stamina.

Sam shudders at the memory. He guesses if Dean's happiness depends on him being scarred for life, so be it. He's incredibly happy for the both of them, but that doesn't change anything about the fact that as the little brother, it's his job to tease Dean as if there was no tomorrow.

"Now what? You still want that bacon?", he asks, hiding his smile by turning back to his eggs.

"Sammy. How long have you known me?" Dean leans his hip against the countertop, totally-not-Cas'-eyes-blue mug in hand. "Obviously all your fucking life. And when has the answer to that question ever been no?"

Sam tilts his head in acknowledgement. 

"Fair."

He pulls another pan out of a drawer, deliberately aiming for the biggest they have, watching Dean's reaction from the corner of his eye when he pours the whole pack of bacon inside at once.

"Whoa, cowboy." Dean steps up to him, shoving him away from the ceramic hob. "What army do you wanna feed with that?"

"Oh, you know", Sam tries to sound as casual as possible, biting back the grin that threatens to give him away, "I just thought you might need to...gather some strength."

He almost breaks when he sees Dean's eyes go wide in shock and he has to lightly cough into his fist when his brother exchanges a quick glance with Cas who seems to shrink in his chair at the table.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean's reproachful tone gets betrayed by the panic in his eyes, and Sam feels just a little bit guilty for riling him up like that. (Not enough to stop, though, obviously.)

"Nothing!" Sam turns the eggs while he plans his next move, shrugs dismissively. "You just look a bit...worn-out."

He bites on his tongue when he hears the sharp intake of breath coming from Dean behind his back and he simply has to turn around to get a look at his flustered face. (He's waited far too long for this not to savour it, okay? Sue him.)

"So you...ah." The colour on Dean's cheeks has darkened what looks like at least ten shades, a hand coming up to rub his neck. "You know, huh?"

"Dude." Sam gives him an almost pitiful smile, eyebrows raised. "You owe me a therapy session", he says meaningfully. (That's when Eileen finally breaks from the laughter she's tried to hold back in one of the corners.) "And a pair of soundproof headphones", Sam adds at second thought, letting the smile spread over his face when Dean throws him a glance that somehow manages to be both embarrassed and annoyed.

Sam just grins, pulling his flustered brother into a hug. 

"Congrats, man."

Dean is stiff for another second, but then Sam feels him relaxing into the hug, his arms coming up to wrap around Sam's back and patting him on the shoulder.

"Thanks, Sammy."

Sam is still grinning from ear to ear when he releases Dean again to turn his attention back to the cooking, taking just a moment to load everything on a plate while Dean goes and takes a seat next to Cas, smiling sheepishly.

"Honestly, dude." Sam sets the plate in the centre of the table, quickly squeezing Cas' shoulder with a smile before he flops down next to Eileen, an arm placed on the back of her chair. "That's been quite the long-term relationship you've had with your own denial, there. Would've been impressive if it hadn't been so frustrating to watch."

Dean gives him a sweet smile.

"Fuck you so much", he says, signing along in ASL. (He's pleased to note that Eileen grins and winks at him while Sam gives him Bitch Face™ #12)

"I believe the words you're looking for are you and thank. Not necessarily in that order."

Dean flashes him a grin, grabbing a piece of bacon and shoving it into his mouth.

"We'll send you a fruit basket."

Sam snorts, shaking his head. 

"Good for you my girlfriend and I are fluent in idiot."

"Good for you my- m-my-" Dean falters, swallows, but quickly gathers himself "....Cas and I are fluent in self-righteous douche", he says then, shrugging the short slip of attitude. "And are you two just gonna sit there or what?" He glares at Cas and Eileen, who instantly seem like two deers in the headlights. They've been awfully quiet up until now. High time Dean changed that. Ideally with them being on his side, of course.  

"Oh, I'm not getting into this." Eileen raises her hands defensively, leaning back in her chair with a grin. "I'm just enjoying the show."

"Cas?" Dean turns to the angel beside him who already looks like he'd rather join Eileen on the bench of silent audience members. "Sunshine?", he says sweetly, pleased to note the flicker in Cas' eyes at the endearment. "Sweetheart?" Dean puts on a pout, gives his best impression of puppy eyes, earning him one of Cas' enervated-yet-fond eye rolls, a smile tugging at the corner of the angel's moth.

"Dean..."

"Honeybee?" Dean flutters his eyelashes and grins victoriously when Cas sighs, unable to hold back his smile. 

"Sam does have a point, Dean", the angel says then, smiling wider when Sam lets out a smug ha!, crossing his arms in front of his chest while Dean stares between the two of them in disbelief.

"Oh, come on!" He gestures to Cas in accusation, playfully shoving at his shoulder. "You're my angel now, you're supposed to be on my side, that's how this whole relationship thing works, Cas."

(Was it just a slip of tongue, Cas asks himself, or is this what they're like now? Dean calling him his angel, acknowledging that he knows the colour of Cas' favourite mug -and maybe even why it's his favourite colour-, calling him sunshine and sweetheart, even if in jest? If this is what it's gonna be like, Cas has nothing to complain.)

"I always was your angel, Dean", he says quietly, smiling to himself even though he has to lower his eyes at the truthfulness seeping from his own tongue, "and nevertheless, I didn't always agree with you in the past, either."

"I-" Dean stares at him with wide eyes, swallows slowly, and isn't that a reaction Cas could get quite used to. "Well. I guess." 

Their eyes meet, mirroring smiles lighting up their faces, and the fluttery feeling in Dean's chest finally lets him give in with a huff.

"Okay, okay." He lifts his hands to let them fall down to his lap in defeat. "Yall win." He lets his right hand wander over to Cas' thigh, placing it over the angel's hand that rests there, delighted when he feels Cas hold his in return. 

"Thank you, Sammy." Dean genuinely smiles at his brother over the table, squeezing Cas' fingers underneath. "You too." He nods at Eileen, who softly smiles back at him, and he feels overcome by a sheer drowning wave of gratefulness for the people gathered around him right now.

"We're so happy for you, Dean", Sam tells him, exchanging a look with Eileen. "For both of you. No need for a fruit basket", he adds, the amused sparkle reappearing in his eyes. "I definitely do want those soundproof headphones, though."

"What do you need soundproof headphones for?"

Their heads snap around to the open kitchen door.

"Jack!"

"Hello." Jack waves at them, smiling a dorky smile.

"That's a surprise." 

They need a fifth chair now, Dean realises, and for a second an image flashes through his mind, the thought that he could just scoot over to Cas' chair, sit in his lap under the cover of having to make room for Jack. Sam would probably tease him, but it's not as if he hasn't already, Cas wouldn't mind, Dean's sure he wouldn't mind, maybe he would even welcome it, would enjoy the stolen moments of closeness as much as Dean would. He wouldn't even need to ask, could just move and do it, just reach out and...

But he doesn't. Maybe he will, eventually. Some day. 

Instead, it's Eileen who moves, apparently she's had the same thought Dean just dismissed. Sam doesn't even comment when she comes to sit on his thigh, just welcomes her in his arms with a quick smile. Dean doesn't feel envious at all. He does not

Jack shrugs his shoulders, sits down in the now empty chair Eileen points at with a smile.

"I felt a shift in energy again, here", Jack explains casually, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for a child to do, and for him, it is. "Thought I'd check in on you."

"We're all good, Jack", Cas smiles, and Jack nods happily.

"I can see that. You're..." He tilts his head in that entirely Cas-like manner, squinting his eyes at Dean and the angel. "You're kind of...shining, actually."

That's the afterglow, Sam desperately wants to say, but he knows better than to make a sex joke in front of their three-year-old. He signs it to Eileen instead, under the table and out of Jack's sight just in case, earning him a choked sound from her and a scolding look from Dean and Cas. 

"They're just happy, Jack", is what Sam says instead, and why the hell does even that make Dean feel like blushing??

"Oh." Jack's brow furrows shortly, but then he shrugs, the easy smile returning. "Okay. Why?"

"Do we need a reason?" Dean doesn't mean to sound harsh, but he can't swallow the uncomfortable feeling in his chest. He doesn't know why it's there. It shouldn't be there. He doesn't want it to be there. Sam and Eileen know, he wants the rest of his family to know too, including Jack. He knows no one is going to judge. They'll all be happy for them, Dean just knows they will be. And this is their son, their son, so why does the subject cause a lump in his throat?

"I guess not", Jack grants him after some consideration. "But...it's just not very like you", he points out, bold and innocent as ever, earning him a snort from Sam.

"Kid does have a point, dude."

"It's because..." Cas takes Dean's hand where it rests on his thigh and places it on top of the table, their fingers laced. He gives Dean a soft smile, an understanding smile that makes the hunter's throat go even drier because it tells him that Cas knows, Cas can see he's running low on bravery, and that soft smile tells him it's okay. "Dean and I, we're...together", the angel says then, gaze still resting on Dean, proud and reassuring.

"I...can see that?" Jack frowns in confusion when Dean rips his eyes from Cas' to look at the kid, and damn his obliviousness would be adorable if it wasn't so impractical right now. The tendency to take everything literal reminds Dean a lot of Cas when they first met, and haven't they come one hell of a long way since then.

"No, I- I mean..." Cas trails off, squeezing Dean's fingers, searching for help. "Dean?"

"He means together like...a couple", Dean says, surprised himself how easy it suddenly is, with the warmth of Cas' hand in his, grounding him, guiding him. "Like...Sam and Eileen", he adds at Jack's still puzzled expression, mentioning over to his brother who's sitting with his arm wrapped around Eileen's shoulders. Jack follows his gesture, tilting his head again. 

"Yes...and...?" He doesn't seem less confused now, actually, he seems to have no clue what they're trying to tell him, and Dean is just about to open his mouth again and search for another explanation when Jack's expression suddenly melts into one of realization, eyebrows shooting up in surprise. "Wait, you mean that happened recently?", he asks then, and no, Dean did not expect that.

"Eh....yeah?" Dean exchanges a glance with Cas. "Like...yesterday-recently, actually."

"Oh." 

"Oh?" Seriously? That's all he has to say about this? Oh??

"Haven't you always been?", Jack asks curiously, sincerely bewildered, and whatever reply Dean had prepared dies on his tongue.

"What?"

"You've not been married?", Jack goes on, eyes squinted in confusion. "This whole time? Since my birth?"

"What?" Dean looks searchingly at Cas, but the angel seems as lost for words as he is himself. "Jack, no", he finally gets out, watching how the kid considers his words for a moment before he nods.

"Oh", he repeats, lighthearted and naively accepting. "I thought you were. But well." He shrugs lightly, gives them his most beaming and innocent smile. "Good you are now. Congratulations!"

"Thanks..." 

Dean watches how Jack lets his eyes wander over the table, the subject apparently closed to him now, moving on without giving it a second thought. He smiles to himself through his still lingering state of shocked disbelief. This kid really is something, man. 

"So." Jack points to the full plate in the middle of the table, practically untouched and probably cold by now. "Someone's gonna give me some of that bacon or what?" 

He's not only Cas' son, after all. 

Chapter Text

It's been three weeks now, three wonderful, excruciating weeks, and he still can't do it. 

Dean lies on his side in the dark, eyes open and staring into nothingness. There's a warm comforting weight in his back, Cas' soft and regular breathing in the silence. If he didn't know better he could think the angel was asleep. 

He's probably lying on his side too, or on his back, head turned to face Dean. He can just imagine it, the soft look in those blue eyes that are resting on him now, have almost constantly been resting on him for the last couple of weeks. 

They barely leave each others' side. He's not sure what it is for Cas that makes the angel anxious to let Dean out of his sight, perhaps it's the newness of it all, the wonder that it's real, the fear that if they part and come back together it will all turn out to be a dream. It's like that for Dean, too, but it's more. He can't forget the Empty, even though it's been months and there has been no sign of anything unusual in the bunker or anywhere else. Still, there's this desire in him, impossible to ignore and even more impossible to expel. The desire to wrap Cas up in his arms like he's done that day when the Empty was raging around them, hide the angel away somewhere nothing and no one is ever going to find them. 

Because they still don't know. They still don't know what it was, why the Empty didn't take Cas like it was supposed to, like it had the right to. If Dean has learned anything in his years as a hunter, it's that a deal aways has its price. And there's no supernatural being that would just let go of what they'd been promised. So what if Cas isn't safe, what if he'll never be safe, wherever they go, whatever they do? What if Dean will have to live in the constant fear to lose him again, sudden and unannounced, any minute of any day? What if Dean can't protect him? 

So all he does is keep an eye on him, take him anywhere he goes, doesn't leave his side for a second. Gladly, Cas doesn't seem to mind. He goes gladly, smiles shyly back when Dean gives him a smile over the breakfast table or squeezes his shoulder in the Impala on their way to the store. Dean loves and hates it at the same time. 

He loves it because he simply can't not love it when Cas smiles at him, smiles because of him.

He hates it because he would like to do much more.  But the thing is...apparently he can't. 

He's been trying. He's been trying hard. Just today they were grocery shopping together, like they've done a dozen times before. It's nothing out of the ordinary anymore, neither is it new that Dean has been staring at Cas' hand the whole time. The way his elegant fingers flex when he picks up a bowl of salad for Sam, inspects it carefully for bruises and signs of decay before giving it an approving look and dropping it in their basket. The way in which they surely reach for Dean's favourite sort of pie, strong and beautiful, and Dean doesn't even register what he's holding out to him until it joined the rest of their purchases. He's wanted to reach out and take one of those hands in his, has been thinking about nothing else, has even been playfully scolded by the angel for daydreaming and letting Cas do all the shopping by himself. 

Are you alright, Dean? has made him wake out of more than one trance, but he's been too angry and disappointed with himself to be embarrassed about being caught. Because as much as he stares, as much as his hands twitch by his side with the need to reach out, in the end, they always curl up into a fist and stay where they are. He doesn't know why.  

There has been an innumerable amount of occasions when he took Cas to the mall or grocery shopping or even just on a walk. When he wanted to take his hand, kiss his cheek or put an arm around his waist during movie night. He never does. Not once. 

Cas doesn't, either. He'd tried a few times in the first couple of days, had taken Dean's hand under the table, pressed a hesitant kiss to Dean's temple in the darkness of the Dean-cave. Dean had let him, of course, had even relished every little gesture, stored the memories away in his mind, wished he could do the same for Cas. 

It has stopped now, and of course Dean knows why. It's not because Cas can't, it's because Dean can't. Or well, it's because Dean doesn't. Because Cas doesn't know Dean wants to, he doesn't know about this thing inside him that won't let him. Cas just sees that he doesn't, so he holds back, too. 

I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Dean, he can clearly hear even though Cas has never said it about this. He's never said anything about this because they haven't talked about it. And knowing that Cas has to hold back, again, because of him, again - it's even worse than the anger about his own petrifying inability.  

Yes, there are looks (let's be real, there are stares), and smiles and even little touches. A pat on the shoulder, a squeeze of an arm, fingers brushing when he hands Cas that green mug once again, and in one significant moment, he'd even lightly nuzzled his nose in that dark messy hair when he'd whispered something to Cas over a movie. But those aren't new. Maybe the smiles are more frequent, their stares less disguised (not that they every actually were). Maybe they sit a little closer at the breakfast table and on the couch now, maybe they retreat both to Dean's room at the end of the day. And within these four walls, everything seems perfect. 

It's what happens to him as soon as he leaves the comfort of their room that keeps Dean up at night. It's what happens to him as soon as he steps out into the world, how he can't bring himself to show his feelings there, not even in front of Sam and Eileen, who know and are happy for them. The rest of their family knows too, by now. They had invited Jody and Donna over a week ago, both of them with brilliant smiles on their faces when they hugged them, several renditions of About time, you idiots delivered with a grin. Claire had quickly overcome the "grossness" of what she didn't want to imagine was happening behind Dean's closed bedroom door at night, but Dean and Cas both already are her dads anyway, and she's happy that they're happy. There's nothing more to it. 

So what is it, those chains that are holding him back, keeping him from moving? Dean is not afraid of people judging him (he already has the support of everyone that counts, anyway), doesn't care what they think, not really. It's more like a mental barricade he can't tear down, something rooted so deep inside his mind that he can't rip it out, not even if it blocks his every attempt to give into anything that might be read as a sign of affection beyond friendship. 

He hates it. He doesn't know how to make it go away.

"Dean? Are you alright?" There it is again. Of course Cas would feel his distress even when they're just lying here, facing away from each other. 

Dean breathes out, closes his eyes. 

No, he thinks. I'm not. 

He doesn't answer. He can't lie to Cas. He can't tell him the truth either, so he says nothing.

There's a moment of silence, then the rustling of the sheets when Cas moves, wraps an arm around him and carefully pulls him close. Dean tries not to tense up, tries not to feel guilty about how comforting it is to be held, how he doesn't deserve to be treated so gently, so lovingly. 

Cas doesn't say another word. Perhaps he thinks Dean is asleep. 

And Dean just keeps breathing and pretends everything is fine. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"This makes me very happy", Cas says one evening a few days later, sprawled out on the mattress with Dean tucked into his side, face buried in the angel's neck. He sounds so content Dean smiles despite the worry and guilt still gnawing at his heart.

"We're not even doing anything, Cas."

Cas hums absentmindedly, running a finger up and down Dean's spine. 

"I know. But I told you, it's not in the having...or the doing, for that matter." Dean can hear the meaningful smirk in Cas' voice, can clearly imagine the warm sparkle in his eyes. "Even though I won't deny it does have its merits. But just being with you is enough to make me happy, Dean."

He sounds so truthful, so sincere, so grateful. Dean can't stand it. It's everything he's ever wanted to hear, and it makes a surge of shame rush through his body, forcing him to close his eyes and release a shaky breath.

He's trying. He is. And he's learning. He's switching his mentality from I'm broken and hopeless to I'm growing and healing. And it's a start. But it's not enough. 

Because this isn't just about him, it's about Cas, too. Cas' happiness depends on this, on him.

Castiel, the angel who had fallen for him (in more ways than one). Castiel, the angel who had died for him (more than once). Castiel, the angel he would die for. And, he discovered, Castiel, the angel he would live for.

But no, Dean knows Cas wouldn't want him to think that way. Cas would tell him that you can't live for anyone but yourself. So he tries to write notes to himself in his head: You gotta do this for you. This is for you. This isn't about Cas or Sam or Jack or anybody. Just live for you. But he doesn't believe them yet.

"Can't be that bad after all", he'd said to Cas a few days ago, slipping his treacherous lips in a desperate attempt to convince himself of his own worth. "Not if you're here."

Cas had sighed, and being Cas, he'd answered with just the words Dean needed to hear, just the words Dean didn't want to hear, just the words Dean couldn't bring himself to believe.

"Dean", he'd said, his voice so sad and gentle Dean's chest contracts painfully at the sheer memory. "That's not- You don't find your worth in someone else. You find your worth within yourself, and then find someone who's worthy of you. I need you to understand that, Dean. It's important. Self-love...it's not selfish, it's vital. This world is hard enough as it is. If you don't feel good about yourself, how can you expect to feel good about anything else?"

He'd been right. Of course he'd been right. Dean didn't have the heart to tell him that he doesn't believe he can do it.

"What would I do without you?", he'd said instead, earning him a smile too soft and too loving.

"You'll never have to find out."

"I'm sorry", he says now. It's a whisper in the crook of Cas' neck, a confession that leaves Dean's lips unbidden. He supposes it's better that way.

"What?" 

"I'm sorry, Cas."

He can feel Cas lifting his head to look down at him and Dean presses his eyes closed.

"I don't understand." Dean hears the frown without looking. "What are you talking about?"

"This." Dean gestures down their bodies, subconsciously pulling away from Cas without meaning to. "Us. I know it's not..." He hesitates, sits up with a sigh, eyes lowered. "It can't be what you expected."

"I didn't expect anything, Dean." Cas' voice is truthful as ever and Dean presses his lips together. "I never dared even hope-"

"Don't do that, Cas." He throws a quick glance at the angel's face, isn't surprised to see the flicker of hurt there, but it's drowned out by his own pain. "I can't- I don't want to hear what a gift every moment is", he says, driving a hand over his face, "how grateful you are. Just don't."

"But Dean-"

"I can't even hold your hand, Cas!" He can't stop his voice from cracking, doesn't find it in himself to care, doesn't try to stop the outburst either. 

It happened again today. It just won't stop happening and he can't not tell Cas anymore. It's not fair to him. 

"I've wanted to", he confesses. "Today, at the store, y'know. I've been staring at it, was nearly going insane with the need to just reach out and-" He trails off, swallows around the lump in his throat. "But I couldn't. I...I couldn't. And I'm not ashamed of you, Cas, don't ever think that. I don't know what it is, this...thing inside me that just won't let me...do the things I want and-" Dean can feel his voice fading away, his next words nothing more than a whisper, strained, shameful. "I don't know if it will ever go away."

Cas stares at him with wide eyes, opens his mouth without saying anything. Dean wants to hide away, wants a hole to open up and swallow him, but then there's a warm hand on his arm, soft blue eyes meeting his when his head snaps up.

"It's only been a few weeks, Dean." Cas' thumb strokes soothingly over the skin right under Dean's elbow. "I don't expect you to-"

And there it is. Of course it would come. Dean can't help the bitter laugh escaping his throat, cutting the angel off with a start.

"Yeah, that's the thing, isn't it?" The words feel like venom on his tongue and he hates himself for speaking them, for spitting them in Cas' face like that. Cas who never did anything wrong, Cas who has no fault in any of this, Cas whose only crime is that he's too humble. "You never expect anything, Cas. You're this good...damn selfless idiot who never claims anything for himself. And...I should be the one to tell you that you can ask for things, Cas." For some reason, the hand on his arm is still there, and Dean grabs it mindlessly, probably squeezing too hard, a desperate attempt to ground himself. "I should be the one to just give everything to you before you even have to ask." He lets go of Cas' hand, pushes it away, lowers his eyes so he won't have to watch the hurt flicker across the angel's face. "But instead, I just take advantage of your goodness", he says quietly, hit by the gravitas of his own words now that the thoughts of weeks have taken a corporal form in sound. "All I can do is pray that you won't wake up someday and understand that I've never been able to give you what you deserve."

"Dean, stop that." Cas sounds pained, looks at him as if he can't bear the sight, a stark contrast to the soft quality of his voice. "I thought we talked about this."

"Hasn't done any good, though, has it?", Dean snaps, wishes he could stop his tongue. "I'm still the same mess that my dad made me. I'm trying to be better, but what if I can't? I can't stand the thought of holding you back, all the things you're missing out on just because you feel obligated-"

"Obligated?" Cas stops him with a disbelieving frown. "I don't feel any sense of obligation towards you, Dean."

"Not now. But maybe someday you will. And I can't let you stay with me just because-"

"Stop." Cas presses his lips together, shakes his head frantically. "Please, I can't listen to this."

"Cas, I'm serious-"

"Well so am I!" Cas sits up straighter, a spark of anger appearing in his eyes through the sadness and pain. "What is this? Are you trying to-" He falters, a quick succession of emotion flitting across his face. Realization, shock, fear, disbelief, hurt. So much hurt. "If...if you feel like you made a mistake", Cas says then, slowly, controlled "and want to end this- Then please, just say it. But don't try to talk your way out of this by making it about me and my needs, don't humiliate me."

What? No, that's not-

"No, Cas, that's not-" Dean bites his lip in frustration, unspeakably angry with himself. Of course that's how Cas would read this, he's so stupid. He can't even try and fix the mess he's made without making an even bigger one. "I don't want this", he says then, because he doesn't, he wishes he didn't have to, "I don't want to push you away, okay? I just- fuck, I just don't want you to be unhappy..."

"Well." Cas' jaw is tense, his eyes hard and cold in a way that Dean never wants to see directed at him again. "I was perfectly happy before you started implying I should go and find some random man who I could never love just because they're worthy- or whatever you made up to fit your twisted idea of what I deserve."

Dean wants to say something, but one look of those searing eyes shuts him up. 

"Do you know what I think I deserve? I think I deserve your trust, Dean! Your trust that I know what I want, who I want. I deserve your trust that I will tell you if I'm lacking something, your trust that I know my own happiness. Because I do, and it's not out there, Dean." He gestures to the door before driving a hand through his already messy hair, takes a steadying breath. "It's not in anyone but you", Cas says then, calm and sure "it can never be in anyone but you."

Dean watches how Cas shakes his head to himself, waits for whatever is going to happen next, waits for whatever it is to just wash over him. Speaking isn't in the cards. 

Whatever he might have expected though, it surely isn't for Cas to reach for his hand, for those eyes to find his again, for them to be filled with the usual warmth. 

"Don't you understand?" Cas smiles at him, a sad smile, but a smile nevertheless. "I am bound to you, Dean, bound in ways neither of us can even begin to comprehend. I didn't understand it before, but I think I do now." The smile widens, and suddenly there are hints of tears sparkling in the blue, and Dean is spellbound. "It was you, Dean, that day when the Empty didn't take me. It couldn't. Because you...you said to me that it was then you truly knew your feelings for me. And even though you've had them before that, it was then you acknowledged them, it was then you accepted that you loved me, Dean. And it saved me. Don't you see? We are connected so deeply that the Empty couldn't take me, not as long as you remain here on Earth.

"So no", Cas continues, leaving Dean no time to truly process that revelation, "I don't care that there may be better men out there! I don't care what any of them might possibly be able to give me! I don't need anything more. When will you understand that you've already given me everything? And you continue to do so, every day. You have saved me...in every possible way. You saved me from my family, you saved me from a fate as a loveless soldier in Chuck's army, you saved me from myself, Dean. And you have given everything you had, so don't you ever dare say it's not enough", Cas tells him, withdrawing from Dean as tears flow freely down his cheeks, "don't you ever dare degrade yourself and the sacrifices you've made! Doing so means you declare the love my heart has chosen to bestow upon you invalid and meaningless."

"Cas..." Dean wants to reach for him, his voice cracking, but Cas shakes his head and retreats further, slips from the bed and walks over to where his trenchcoat is hanging from a hook in the wall. He rummages through the pockets, grabs a little object and throws it at Dean.

"There!" 

It lands next to Dean on the cushion, small and glowing bluish in the dim room. 

"Cas?" Dean reaches for it, brow furrowed. This is not what he thinks it is. It can't be. "Cas, what is this?"

"It's a vial with my grace."

His head snaps up. 

"What?"

"I asked Jack to remove it", Cas states simply. "And put it in there."

"You what??"

"Yes." The angel (or is he?) lifts his chin, unrelenting, gestures to the offending glass vial that Dean is clutching in his hand. "I ripped out the very thing that made me holy, the last connection to Heaven. And I gave it up willingly. Dean, I carved my divinity out of my chest to be with you!"

"But why did you- Cas, you..." Dean can feel his shock and confusion melt away, burned out by the rage bubbling up in his chest. "Why the hell would you do that?", he presses out, staring at Cas in disbelief. "No. No, that's not- Keep it. Ask Jack to put it back and-"

"Dean-"

"No, Cas!" Dean throws the vial on the bed and gets up, pointing at it in accusation while he crosses the room. "Why would you do that and- without even asking me? I thought we're-" I thought we're a team, I thought we're partners, I thought- "Why wouldn't you even ask me what I think before doing something so-"

"Because it's my decision, Dean." Cas cuts him off calmy, mercilessly. "It's my grace, my life. And you can't tell me what to do with it. It is my choice."

"No." Dean shakes his head, paces through the room. "Nonononono. You can't- I can't let you do this, I-"

"Dean-"

"No, Cas!" He doesn't know how often he's said that now. "How could you?" He thinks he might be hyperventilating, runs a frantic hand through his hair. He can't let this happen, he can't, he can't, he can't. He gives up being an angel. He gives up his nature. He gives up his power and immortality, he- "That's not right", Dean says, to himself as much as Cas, "Not for me. I'm not worth it."

"Dean!"

"No!" Dean is nearly sobbing himself now, but he can't, he won't, not now, not in front of Cas. So he walks over to the bed instead and roughly grabs the vial, shoving it back in the angel's hands when he reaches him. "Here! Take it, keep it. I don't want it!"

I don't want you, Cas hears in the echo of the door that flies shut behind Dean, leaving him with nothing but an empty silence, an empty heart, and the faint glow of grace in the darkness.

Chapter Text

"Where are you going?"

Dean sits up on his bed and watches how Cas strides for the door with his pyjamas in hand, gathered from one of the drawers that Dean had cleared for him some time ago. It had happened gradually, really. No big invitation or announcement, they just hadn't bothered sleeping apart ever since that first night, and the few things Cas possessed naturally found their way into Dean's room to stay there, little by little. Dean hadn't even noticed until he'd found a pair of ridiculously printed socks among the shades of black and grey in his drawer. 

"I thought you might not want me here tonight", Cas says quietly, matter-of-factly, without any emotion or judgement. "So I'm retreating to my room."

He says it like he's informing Dean of the weather, eyes lowered to the ground. It sends a sting of pain through Dean's whole body, and he can feel his shoulders tensing, his throat tightening in panic. 

"What? No...wha- Don't be silly, Cas." 

They haven't spoken yet, not after he left Cas standing in the room with that little vial of glowing grace in his hand, beautiful and innocent and inexplicably the cause of all this madness. He hadn't been gone long. As soon as he'd reached the library and paced up and down to cool off for a moment, he'd known he had to go back. Cas had still been standing in the same spot when he returned, and Dean had opened his mouth when he entered, unsure what he intended to say, but it didn't matter because the look on Cas' face had made any possible words die on his tongue. 

Instead, they'd just wordlessly proceeded to get ready for the night, and even though the tension had been palpable, words unspoken heavy in the air, Dean feels foolish now that he hasn't even for one second thought about this. Of all the things he'd imagined might happen, from shared apologies to them yelling at each other again, there wasn't a moment when he saw Cas leave.

It throws him off course, that silent apathy, even though he knows it's only a facade. Cas' heart and mind must be raging just like his own, but the surface is quiet and still like untouched water, and Dean wants to cut through it, wants to make it rough and moving, even if in anger. Everything is better than the dead stillness.  

"No."

There's a twitch of muscle next to the angel's mouth at that, and Dean breathes in.

"No, Cas, c'mon."

He sounds far more confident than he feels, surprised that his voice isn't shaking from raw fear. Because that's what it does to him, the image of Cas halfway through the room, motionless yet just on the verge of disappearing. There's fear, and it's drowning and gnawing and irrational Dean just knows he can't let him walk through that door.

He's too used to it already, the weight in his back that makes the mattress dip down, the shallow sound of Cas' breath that soothes him into sleep. He can't even entertain the thought to not wake up to the colour blue. 

"Please, don't."

The angel throws an unsure glance at him, standing in the room, still angled towards the door but unmoving. Dean can see the fight going on in Cas' head, suppressed longing colliding with the instinct to flee and avoid confrontation, suspended in the in-between. 

"C'mere." Dean waves him towards the bed, as gentle and inviting as possible without losing his hold on himself. "Come. Please."

Cas is hesitant for another moment, but then he complies without a word, follows without lifting his gaze.

"Sit." Dean pats down on what he's come to think of as Cas' side of the bed, and that thought alone is enough to make a new wave of pain rush through him at the prospect that Cas might refuse to occupy it, might not know that it's his to own, that it's gonna be bereft of all its purpose and meaning if he's not there to keep it warm. 

I thought you might not want me here tonight, Cas had said, and Dean hates himself for making Cas believe that for even a second.

"Look, if you wanna go, I'm not gonna stop you", Dean says, despite the cold fist that clenches around his heart. "But if you're doing this for me...then don't." 

Cas looks up at that, a wrinkle in his brow, and Dean isn't sure if he preferred not having the piercing gaze of those eyes on him or the relief that he looks at him at all. He would like to reach out and take Cas' hand, but he doesn't dare, he might already be pushing his boundaries enough as it is. Instead, he searches the angel's gaze and is pleased to find that Cas doesn't avert his eyes.

"We had a fight, Cas", Dean says, soft but insistent. "It happens. But of course I want you here, I-..." He hesitates, unsure if he should say it now, but it feels right to say it, it always feels right to say it, and he wouldn't know what else to say, anyway. So he says it. "...I love you."

Cas swallows, looks at him for a long time, but then he nods and wordlessly slides into bed and under the covers, and Dean silently releases the breath he's been holding. He lies on his back, staring at the ceiling, nearly crushed under the relief crashing over him when he feels the mattress dip down in that way that has become so familiar and indispensable to him.

They both know they'll need to talk about this again. They both know they won't do it now. 

Cas doesn't roll over to put an arm around him that night. It makes a lump form in Dean's throat, but at least he's here. He stayed. When Dean finally can't stand the distance anymore and careful fingers search for Cas' hand under the blanket, the angel shows no sign of recognition at the hesitant touch. 

And yet, he doesn't pull away, either.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

He hands Cas the green mug in the morning like he always does. The smile he receives is empty and doesn't reach Cas' eyes.

They occupy themselves in the bunker, always in the same room, Cas reading and Dean deciding to drown himself in chores. Always within reach and never reaching out. 

They talk, but they don't talk about it. They're affectionate, but it lacks the usual depth. Sam and Eileen don't ask. There's a good chance Sam heard them shouting last evening and they already know what it's about. Either way, they seem to have decided to stay out of it, at least for now, and Dean is grateful.

He's writhing in his own skin, torn in his anger. He's angry with himself, because he always is, he knows how to do that, and it's easier than any of the other options swirling in his head, like guilt and shame and longing. He's angry with Cas, too, disappointed and hurt when he thinks back to their confrontation, what he'd done and how he hadn't even consulted Dean in the matter first, something so huge and literally lifechanging. Doesn't Cas trust him enough to include him in matters that will be so substantial to him? Or is it just that he doesn't value his opinion enough? 

The rational part of his mind is aware that Cas probably just knew Dean was gonna say no if he asked, so he acted before Dean could stop him. But he doesn't let that thought linger, drowns it out with the anger about Cas making such stupid decisions in the first place, because if he goes down that road he'll just feel overwhelmingly guilty for patronizing the angel in that way, yelling at him and spitting on the sacrifice he'd made. The sacrifice he made for Dean. Always for Dean. 

I carved my divinity out of my chest to be with you, Cas had thrown in his face, and Dean is determined to stop taking, no matter what a willing giver Cas claims to be. The list of his debts is long enough to cover the walls in his tower of guilt. 

But he can't feel guilty now. He needs Cas to be in the wrong here, somehow, as horrible as that sounds. Because he can't be the one hurting Cas again, not after he just made some progress in believing that he's worthy of the angel's love. 

He thinks about going for a drive but he can't. It's painful to look at Cas, to only look at him when he's looking away, how they spent years looking at each other. Only, it's worse now that he knows how it is to meet that blue gaze without restraint and how it is to be given a loving smile in return. It's painful to look at Cas and know his eyes would be hard if he were to meet them. But he still can't look away. Can't leave his presence, even if it's a cold and distant one.

He tries to think of what he can say to him, tries to find a way how to make this right, how to make him understand without hurting him further.

As usual, he fails.

Silence grows like cancer though, he knows that by now. If you keep it untouched and ignore it for too long, it will start eating you up from the inside. They've let that happen too many times already. Dean knows what it feels like to be full of holes in his chest, in his heart, in his soul. He thinks if he adds more he might fall apart at the seams. 

So as the day draws to a close, all the books and shelves in the library are dusted off, the furniture polished, and Cas is halfway through a book Dean hopes is not the one the angel has been reading to him last week (he won't admit how much he likes that, nor what the title of that book is, not now), he slumps down on the armchair closest to the one Cas is occupying and rubs his tired eyes.

"Cas?"

"Mhm?" 

It's not unfriendly, but he doesn't look up from the page.

"Hey, you think you can put that down for a sec?" 

Cas sighs, but does as he's asked, not only lowering the book but closing it and placing it on a sidetable. Then he patiently folds his hands in his lap and directs his gaze at Dean, expectant, obviously waiting for him to say whatever he's planned to say.

Except that Dean hasn't really planned anything. And even if he had, there's a good chance all of the rehearsed lines would have disappeared from his mind now that he meets Cas' eyes. They look tired, a sort of emotional exhaustion Dean can feel himself, but he can still see the fire burning behind the veil, a flame kindled by frustration and anger. 

Dean takes a breath.

"I'm sorry I went out on you like that", he begins, because it seems like a sensible thing to begin with. "And I don't- I still don't like it, okay? What you did, but...I meant what I said. I love you and that's not gonna change. I just needed you to know that."

"Okay." Cas licks his lips, eyes wide and strangely anxious all of a sudden. "Dean, I-"

"Why did you do it?" Maybe he should have let the angel finish, maybe it would have been less dangerous, wouldn't have made that spark flare higher in Cas' eyes. But the words tumble from Dean's lips, and he simply doesn't have the willpower to stop them. "Why did you do it, Cas?" He runs a hand over his face, closes his eyes for a moment. "My head tells me you must have had a good reason but I just can't understand it."

"Maybe if you'd let me explain instead of yelling at me you would have understood."

Cas' voice is controlled, too controlled not to be a cover for his exasperation. 

"You-" Dean bites his lip, snappy reply ready on his tongue, but he swallows it. Cas isn't completely wrong, he supposes. "Okay." He places his hands in his lap, threads his fingers together. "Okay, fair. I guess I deserved that. But...you didn't even ask me, Cas. This is...this is huge, and you didn't even think about talking to me before you just went off and-"

"I admit it wasn't the most...thoughtful way, perhaps", Cas interrupts him, "but I- I was afraid you'd try to talk me out of it."

So Dean was right after all. And Cas had been right in his assumption, too. 

"Damn right I would have! This is nuts, Cas! This-" He doesn't even have words for what this is, except for that it's wrong, especially if- "This is for me, right?", he asks, voice pained, and at least it softens the expression on Cas' face a little, even if the determination doesn't waver. "Yeah, you...you're doing it again, sacrificing yourself for me. But I won't have it, I told you-"

"This is no sacrifice, Dean!" Cas' eyes do this thing where they seem accusing and pleading at the same time. "I'm not sacrificing anything! At least nothing I'm not more than willing to give."

"Well, I'm not willing to let you! I won't let you throw away your life for me!" And yep, there we go, they're yelling again, but dammit if Cas needs him to scream to get through that stubborn head, he will. "I don't want you to give up your grace, your immortality! This will make you human, Cas! Do you even know what that means?"

"I became human the moment I realized I was in love with you."

Well fuck. That kinda took the wind out of Dean's sails now, didn't it. He stares at Cas, dumbstruck by the sudden softness of his voice, the finality of his words. And maybe this comes as such a shock because Dean already knows that it's true. 

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into", he says nevertheless, because he has to say something. 

"I do know, Dean. Did you forget that I've been human before, and under much less pleasant circumstances than living here with my family?"

He deserves that. He knows he deserves that. He still hates himself for doing that to Cas, every damn day, and still it comes as a hard blow. 

"Cas-"

"No", Cas interrupts him again, breaks off his attempt at saying something he doesn't have the words for. "I'm not telling you this to fight, Dean", he says, calm and far softer than he should. "I know you had no choice back then and I've forgiven you, a long time ago. But you don't get to tell me what I know or do not know about living a human life. I've watched humans for millennia and I've experienced it first hand. I know exactly what I'm getting myself into."

"But it's-" Dean feels how the panic creeps up on him again, feels that he's losing this battle, and he can't, because if he does, it will be Cas who loses more than Dean can allow. "It's not just that you're going to have to eat and sleep, Cas! You'll be weak, you can be injured, and you'll get sick and grow old and someday...someday, you'll die, Cas!"

"And that's exactly why I chose it", Cas says, catching Dean off guard and rendering him speechless. Because suddenly, there's a smile on Cas' face, a sad but somewhat content smile, hopeful and pleading to be allowed to stay. "I want all these things, Dean. Eating and sleeping and growing old and...even dying. Because I will experience them alongside you. Don't you understand, Dean? I want to have a life with you, a normal, human life." For a moment, Dean thinks Cas is going to reach for his hand, but then he just sighs. "And yes, one day, I will die", he confirms then, a sentence that weighs so heavy on Dean's ears that he barely catches the rest of Cas' speech. "But so will you. And we'll spend eternity together in the Heaven our son made for us."

"So you are doing this for me", Dean hears himself say, the desperation leaked from his voice now, leaving it empty. "You don't want me to get old while you stay like this, young and gorgeous and- You don't want me to die alone", he says, and it isn't a question, but Cas still shakes his head at him and keeps smiling that strange sad smile.

"Have you listened to anything I just said?", he says, and Dean swallows, because has he? Has he really? Or did he just hear what he expected to hear, what he feared to hear?

"This is not about you, Dean", Cas says then, and this Dean hears, eyes snapping up. "It's about me. It's about the life I want to live. I don't want eternity, not without you."

And again, Dean shakes his head, more of an instinct now, caught as he is in his own head and Cas' words. He opens his mouth, but Cas grabs his hands before he can object again.

"Dean...Listen to me." He squeezes and the way his voice sounds makes it impossible for Dean not to listen. "I've been an angel for a very long time. And I'm grateful for having been given that time, that experience. But I would give it up in a second to be with you, to be your partner, your...whatever you want me to be." Because they still haven't put a label to what they are now, Dean had always avoided- "Just to be yours", Cas goes on, interrupting his racing thoughts, "in whatever way you'll let me. Because the smallest chance of a mortal life with you is infinitely better than an immortal one without you. Because what if we're right and you saved me from the Empty? If it really is our bond that holds me here, we don't know what will happen when you die. Perhaps it won't change a thing and I could just go to Heaven with you...but what if- if...I can't be parted from you again, Dean, I can't. And I'm sure of this, this life, with you. I love you...and I will keep loving you until I take my last breath, and beyond."

"Cas...", he breathes, even though he knows there won't be words coming after, all blown out and swept away, and he thinks Cas knows it too, because the smile is blending now, soft and heartbreaking in its sincerity. 

"You're the love of my life, Dean Winchester", that smiling mouth says, and it sounds so easy, falling from those lips. "And my life has been very, very long. I would give up anything for you, and you know that, but...this, this is something you can give to me." And fuck, there are tears glistening in Cas' eyes now, and Dean is almost sure there are some in his own eyes as well, even though he can't be sure, focused as he is on the angel and his voice that seems to grow more desperate by the second. "Let me have this, Dean", he asks, pleads. "Please. I have thought about it and I know what I want. I don't need your permission, but I would hate to have to do this without your consent, so please, please, try to understand, I'm begging you, I- "

"Shush, Cas, Cas..." He practically falls forward just as the first tear makes its way out of the corner of Cas' eye and rolls down his cheek, but Dean is there to catch it, pulling the angel into his arms, face against the crook of his neck. "Don't. Shush...Please, stop", he soothes, a hand carding through Cas' hair while the angel clings to him, hands fisting in the flannel on Dean's back. And Dean thinks he understands it now, what this is to Cas, what it means, and it's not what he thought at all, it's- "There's no need", he tells Cas, mindlessly murmurs into his hair, "Yes. Yes, okay. Yes. If you're sure, if this is what you choose...yes." He drops a light kiss to the dark mess, buries his nose in it and closes his eyes when he hears a relieved sob escape Cas' throat at his words. "Of course I'll support you, of course, Cas."

"Thank you." It's wet and muffled against his shirt, and Dean shakes his head.

"Don't thank me."

"Thank you", he hears again, and he just tightens his hold in return, keeps his eyes closed and breathes.

He has no idea how long they stay like this, he doesn't care, but Cas' sobs have subsided slowly, his tears dried, even though there's still a damp patch left above Dean's collarbone. They shifted at some point without loosening their hold on each other, somehow managed to both fit on the armchair with Cas mostly in Dean's lap, legs hanging over the armrest. But Dean welcomes the weight. It's grounding. His hand has restarted trailing though the angel's dishevelled locks and Cas hums contently when he presses a kiss to his temple.

"You gonna be completely human, from now on?", Dean mumbles, and Cas pulls away just enough to look at Dean.

"Not completely, no", he says then to Dean's surprise. "I might have...exaggerated a bit in my agitation yesterday", Cas admits and has the decency to look slightly ashamed. "I left enough to be able to heal small injuries if needed", he explains," sleep and food are possible but not necessary, and I still have my wings even though they're useless. But...I will age. And I will die. But there's no fear in that, Dean." He strokes a reassuring thumb over Dean's cheek, smoothes out the lines of leftover tension. "We have the slightly unfair advantage to know what comes after, so it will be nothing but the next stage of our eternity together."

"Sounds kinda nice when you put it like that", Dean has to admit and Cas smiles - sure, at ease. 

"It will be. It will all be alright. I promise."

"Okay." 

It's just impossible not to believe him right now, and Dean wants to believe him so badly.

He watches how Cas reaches around him and into the pocket of his coat that's hanging over the back of their chair, and when his hand appears again it's holding onto that little glass vial he had thrown at Dean yesterday. Now he is holding it out to him, cautious, hesitant. 

"Will you take it, then?", he asks, gaze soft and hopeful. "I want to give it to you. For...safe-keeping." Cas smiles, the corner of his mouth quirking up meaningfully. "And as a sort of...symbolic act."

Dean is aware that this is a sheer immeasurable act of trust, Cas giving over his grace to Dean's care, but fuck, it's even more than that. It's Cas giving a part of himself to Dean. 

So he nods, because of course he could never refuse, and the joy on Cas' face when Dean lets him put the chain around his neck makes up for this whole day spent in silent misery. 

And just like that, looking up at Cas while he beams with happiness, Dean knows what he'd like to call that angel of his (because he'll always be Dean's angel, with or without grace). He's shied away from labelling them even in his own head, hadn't been able to find something that seemed fitting, something that sounds right. But there it is now, in his head, while he wears a vial with grace around his neck. It's a term Dean hasn't let into his mind before, had never in his life considered it an option for himself...

Yes, there's a word he would feel good about. But that needs planning. 

Perhaps it's time Dean offered Cas a gift as a sort of symbolic act himself. 

Chapter Text

Dean lies awake that night and watches Castiel, no longer angel of the Lord, as he sleeps for the first time.

It's still a little creepy, but it's also peaceful and soothing and oh so beautiful.

Yes, Cas is beautiful like this, eyes closed, features smoothed out, breathing softly. Dean can't stop staring at him. He thought he understood when Cas told him why he likes it that much, and he had, but he couldn't truly have known until this moment.

He reaches forward and lightly brushes a lost strand of hair out of Cas' face. It has gotten longer, Dean registers now, just enough to twist into soft curls on his head and fall into his eyes when he lies on his side like this. He wants to bury his fingers in it, but resists, drawing his hand back. Cas hums in his sleep, but doesn't wake. Dean is glad. He needs time to think.

Dean...Listen to me, he replays Cas' words in his head, for the millionth time that night. I've been an angel for a very long time. And I'm grateful for having been given that time, that experience. But I would give it up in a second to be with you, to be your partner, your...whatever you want me to be. Just to be yours, in whatever way you'll let me.

Dean had thought a lot about that in the last couple of weeks. He didn't want to think about it, it just sort of happened, kept creeping back into his thoughts whenever he wasn't paying attention, and soon he'd find himself worrying his lip between his teeth, contemplating over terms that sounded each more forced and misplaced than the other.

Boyfriend.

No. They aren't twelve for heaven's sake. He knows he just uses the age bullshit as an excuse, it shouldn't be an issue, lots of people go by it. But it doesn't feel right when he tries to wrap his tongue around it, the idea of introducing Cas as his boyfriend making him cringe.

Partner.

That should be fine. Easy. Uncomplicated. Extensive. Appropriate.

Only that it's somehow not, because it doesn't truly cover their relationship, does it? At least that's what Dean feels like. Perhaps it's all the years of working undercover as FBI. He's had too many partners, too many names, too many identities. Sam has been titled his partner, goddamnit, he can hardly address Cas as such now. And even though there are multiple ways of interpreting that term, it seems like he'd be forcing a new meaning onto it, one it shouldn't carry.

No, Cas deserves something new, something bigger, something that's uniquely and absolutely his own. His and only his, just like Dean is himself. And after today, Dean is pretty sure he knows just the thing.

Husband.

He smiles to himself in the dark, can't help it. It's just what happens when he imagines introducing Cas as such, feels drunk on the mere thought. It sounds like a dream, referring to anyone that way, let alone Cas. It's not something he saw coming, at any point in his life. And yet as soon as the thought enters his mind for the first time, it refuses to leave, won't budge from its place and demands to be recalled again and again.

And each time, it feels more impossible, more stupid, more outrageous, more-
More inevitable. More incredible. More undeniably, frighteningly right.

They are bound in supernatural ways beyond anyone's comprehension. The only thing that's lacking is to be bound by human ways, too, silly, stupid, crazy, symbolic human ways.

And right here, right now, looking down at the sleeping angel beside him, silly and crazy and stupid as it may be - Dean knows he craves it. 

Because in the end, it's simple to name what Cas is to him.

He's the love of his life. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

"Will you read to me again?"

Dean is popped up on his elbow a few days later, Cas sitting beside him with his back against the headboard. He turns his head at Dean's words, crookes a surprised eyebrow at him.  

"We just finished yesterday", he points out, the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth that makes Dean press his lips together to keep a grin from his face.

"I know", he says, shrugging innocently, "but that Austen person wrote more than one cheesy novel, right?"

Cas squints his eyes suspiciously, but nods.

"Yes..." 

"Pick one of the others, then."

Cas frowns at him in disbelief. 

"You were whining like a little girl about how I made you listen to Emma and now you want me to read another?"

"Hey!" Dean shoves at his shoulder, but Cas just lifts that meaningful eyebrow.

"I was not whining!", Dean protests, weak in the face of that look on Cas' face.

"I wasn't", he tries again, aware that he's losing his ground and Cas doesn't even need to say anything, the bastard. He just keeps looking at him like that and Dean groans in defeat.

"Oh, shut your mouth!"

Cas chuckles at that, and maybe embarrassing himself is kinda worth it when it serves to lure those sounds out of the angel.

"I can't read to you with my mouth shut", Cas says smugly, with amusement sparkling in his eyes and wearing a smirk that Dean wants to wipe off his face. Mature as he is, he throws a pillow at him.

"Haha, Mr Sassy. Liked you better before you got the hang of sarcasm and stuff", he grumbles, grabbing the pillow back immediately to shove half of his face into it, watching Cas with one eye. Cas looks down at him and smiles, so Dean has to smile back, obviously. Law of nature or something.

"So." Dean lifts his head expectantly. "Which one's your favourite?"

Cas grows pensive at that, a little furrow appearing between his brows.

"Most people would probably say Pride and Prejudice", he finally says seriously, "but...I lean towards Sense and Sensibility. One of the heroines speaks to me in a way that...well." He looks down at his hands, an almost shy smile playing around his lips. "I don't want to give the plot away, but...some of it reminded me of us...of you. I could understand her, feel with her. She..." She longs for a man who she thinks is unable to ever act on his feelings, should he even have any. "She's the sensible voice of reason in a family of people ruled by their emotions. She carries the responsibility of supporting her family, the weight of feeling with her sister, her mother...and over that she often forgets to look after her own heart and well-being."

He throws a glance at Dean, sad but affectionate.

"Sounds like someone we know?"

"And that's your favourite?", Dean asks, skillfully avoiding an answer as he sits up fully to be on eye-level with the angel. "I...ah. I'd have thought you would have avoided any reminder of me, while we had this whole...", he gestures vaguely into the air, "...thing going on."

Cas shrugs lightly.

"I knew it had a happy ending", he says, still smiling that sad yet loving smile. "Perhaps it was foolish of me, considering it's a work of fiction, but...it made me feel like there was hope."

Damn. Leave it to Cas to make everything deep and meaningful. Dean wants to reach out and take one of Cas' hands in his, so he does, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"No, it's not foolish at all, Cas. I get it." Cas graces him with a grateful smile in return and Dean has to swallow around the sudden lump in his throat.

"Would you like to read it to me?", he asks then, surprisingly steady, lacing their fingers together.

Cas looks at their hands, looks up at Dean.

Then he nods.

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

He's made progress. Cas has been helping him. 

It hadn't been some sort of verbal agreement, even though Dean supposes that as he did indeed tell Cas about his struggles with any sort of  PDA, he could have foreseen that the angel would take it as an unspoken understanding that he would naturally take it upon himself to assist Dean wherever he could. And, as we're talking about Cas here, of course that meant he hadn't been anything but patient and subtle in his support. So subtle, in fact, that Dean hadn't really noticed it at first. 

Cas brushing their knees under the breakfast table. Cas putting his hand on the couch next to Dean's, not pressing, not even suggesting, just silently accessible in case Dean decided to reach out and take it (which he'd finally done a few days ago, earning him a beaming smile and a reassuring squeeze). 

The things he did and the way he did them were so small and insignificant to everyone around them, and yet as soon as Dean understood what Cas was doing, he couldn't help but look out for the signs, eager to try and push himself to take him up on the offer if he could. 

His biggest breakthrough had happened yesterday at the store. Dean was more comfortable around the bunker now, also outside of their room and in front of Sam and Eileen. Even though, if he thinks about it...comfortable isn't really the right term. He's been comfortable from the start, as comfortable as can be expected in a new situation you never thought you'd find yourself in, anyway. He's comfortable with showing Cas affection, he just isn't capable. And out there for all the world to see as opposed to the safety of his home and family, well, that's another matter entirely.

But yesterday...Dean smiles at the memory. He's been staring at Cas' hand again, yesterday. No surprise there. But then there had been a moment when Cas had paused in whatever he'd been about to do (Dean doesn't remember, he hadn't been paying close attention to their chores, if he's honest), and instead, Cas' gaze had caught on Dean's before following Dean's eyes to his own hand. Dean could watch the exact moment when Cas had connected the dots and looked back at him with a careful sort of understanding. Dean had held his breath there for a moment, torn between embarrassment about being caught and anticipation how the angel might react. Cas had hesitated for a second, contemplating, but then he had slowly reached out himself and taken Dean's hand. 

And suddenly Dean could breathe again. He had imagined that he would panic when he realised what Cas was going to do, but as soon as Cas' warm fingers curled around his, complete calmness had settled in his chest. Cas' hold on him was light, questioning, as were his eyes when he looked at Dean uncertainly, waiting for him to shy away. And it was that sort of offering, the careful question in Cas' touch that made Dean brave. He had a choice there, he could have retreated if he wanted to, as much was obvious, but he didn't want to. Cas had crossed that final line that Dean couldn't bring himself to pass, but as soon as the barrier was overcome, it felt easy. Dean's grip tightened and didn't let go.

He had held Cas' hand for the rest of their time in the store and back to the car, and Cas had smiled at him like it was the greatest gift anyone had ever given to him. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Now Dean is leaning against the headboard with his shoulder as he listens to Cas' soothing voice telling the story of Elinor Dashwood and her sisters, watches his mouth move, his eyes flit over the page in concentration. It's a mesmerizing image, and Dean is spellbound in the moment, his lips curled up in a gentle loving smile while he watches just as much as listens. He's not sure what it is that finally shakes him out of his trance, perhaps it's hearing about Elinor's unfulfilled hopes and longing that wakes this sudden craving in himself, he doesn't really care.

He just knows he wants to tell him. 

"Cas?"

"Mhm?"

Dean reaches over and taps a finger on the edge of the cover. It's a beautiful edition, bound with a sky-blue fabric that's printed with a pink floral pattern that will likely wear off little by little and mark the book as well-used and loved. 

"Would you put this away for a second?"

Cas lowers the book to his lap, lets it fall closed with his thumb inside to mark the page.

"Is something wrong?", he asks, brow furrowed, and Dean loves him so much he doesn't know what to do with himself.

"Nono, nothing wrong, it's just..." Dean trails off and smiles, slowly lifting a hand to put it on Cas' cheek. The angel's eyes widen slightly at the rare gesture, but he smiles too, instantly welcomes the touch by leaning into it, and it might have been just the last straw Dean needed.

"I-I'm not-... You know I'm no good with this. Words." A thumb traces the curve of Cas' cheekbone before his hand falls down to land on his chest, Cas' steady heartbeat under his palm. "I'm not like you. Or that Austen Lady of yours", Dean smiles wrily. "You've said all those things to me and I...I want to give you something back. Nono", he says, stops Cas from objecting before he could even open his mouth, but the way he bites his lip tells Dean that he was right in suspecting he was about to. "I know you don't need me to", Dean assures him truthfully, "but...I think I need it, for me. I think I need you to hear it, y'know? I just don't know how, so I thought I'd..."

The sentence gets lost when Dean presses his lips together, trying to suppress the surge of heat he can feel creeping up his neck and threatening to colour his cheeks. He lowes his eyes for a moment, takes a breath before green finds blue again.

"Cas, I cannot make speeches", Dean starts, and the way Cas' breath hitches tells Dean that he recognizes the words Dean is quoting, the words that had haunted him so much he'd repeated them over and over after Cas read them to him for the first time. "If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and pushed you away, and yet you have borne it and always returned to me."

Dean smiles at the way the corners of Cas' mouth are curled up in wonder, his eyes soft with equal amounts of surprise and awe. 

"Dean...", he breathes, but Dean just continues with an unwavering smile.

"So bear with the truths I tell you now, dearest Castiel, may the manners perhaps have little to recommend them." He takes hold of Cas' hand, needs something to ground him now that he fully enters the territory of his own words. "Y'know, sometimes I-"

What does he mean to say? How do you express something you can't even grasp in the world of feeling. How do you put down in words what seems intangible?

"You know...Sometimes I love you so much I don't know how to breathe."

He doesn't know where the words came from, but they sound adequate in his ears, and he's right if the way Cas' eyes widen impossibly more and his lips part is anything to go by.

"Dean-"

"It's strange", Dean goes on, because he fears that the sound of Cas' voice will make him lose the last control he has over himself and his thoughts. So he just goes for the first thing that he finds sitting on his tongue, lets it tumble from his lips without a second thought. "I didn't even know you could have this much love for another person", he hears himself say. "I don't know how it's supposed to...fit. Inside me. How I'm not bursting every time I look at you. But like...a good kind of bursting, y'know? Because it...it feels like it's too much, but it's also not enough and I want- I need, I-"

He breaks off, just realising now that his breathing has quickened and the corners of his eyes are stinging. He tries to calm down by letting a breathless laugh escape his throat, but how is it supposed to work now that he sees Cas' eyes are glistening as well? The angel squeezes his fingers and Dean instinctively lifts their joined hands to his mouth, presses a kiss to the back of Cas'.

"This will sound corny as shit", he laughs then, shakes his head to himself at how strangely dizzy yet focused he seems. "But...I- I just...I'm desperately in love with you."

The silence that follows his words is sweet and short-lived, one moment he's happily gazing at Cas, unable to wipe the giddy smile off his face and utterly indifferent to how love-struck he probably looks (Why would he care? He is). The next he finds himself thrown back into the cushions by a lapful of eager angel, soft lips pressing against his again and again. 

Dean is just too happy to reciprocate, arms coming up to circle around Cas' shoulders, hands smoothing over the planes of his back while he welcomes kiss after kiss. 

It doesn't take long until his shirt has found its way to the floor and Cas' mouth is travelling down his throat to explore the skin it revealed. Dean's hands tangle in the angel's dark hair when he feels open-mouthed kisses being pressed to the line of his collarbone and heading lower, and it already takes all his willpower to tug at the strands and indicate Cas to stop before he'll be too bereft of his rational thinking to do so.

"Cas, wait. As nice as that is, I..."

Cas looks up at him with a questioning glance and tilts his head, making Dean chuckle because damnit, he's just too fucking adorable, okay?

"I want..." He loosens his grip on Cas' hair, smoothes his fingers through the dishevelled strands instead in a soothing gesture. "I need to take care of you this time", he whispers then, proud that his voice doesn't waver. "Will you let me?" 

Let me take care of you. Let me love you.

He waits in nervous anticipation for Cas' reply while the angel just looks at him for a moment, but then the furrow in his brow vanishes, his eyes soften, and instead of an answer, he simply moves up Dean's body to connect their lips in a chaste warm kiss again. Dean draws him in, holds him close while their lips move together, slow and unhurried. And Dean loves this, the way they could just keep kissing like that for hours, like they have all the time in the world. Because they do.

At some point he releases his hold on the angel's back to divest him of his shirt as well, smiling into the kiss when he lets his hands wander down Cas' sides and up to his shoulder blades, just lets himself feel the soft skin, warm and alive under his palms. It's a nice kind of intimacy, touching just for the sake of it, without a hurry to have it lead anywhere, nowhere at all or at least not immediately.

He rolls them over without breaking the kiss, finds himself half draped over Cas' chest. He lets out an appreciative hum when Cas' arms immediately wind around him, mirroring the way Dean had pulled him close before. 

"What do you want, angel?", he asks between light little kisses pressed all over Cas' face, his cheeks, his temples, his eyelids, giving both of them the chance to cool down and breathe. "We can just continue like this, or leave it here and I just hold you, or..." He presses a sweet kiss to Cas' lips, but shortly catches his bottom lip between his teeth when he pulls away, drawing a groan out of Cas that makes Dean smirk when he looks down at him.

"Dean..."

The breathlessness in Cas' voice makes a shiver run down Dean's spine, and he leans close again to whisper into Cas' ear.

"Anything you want, angel."

There's something running through Cas' body, too, making him tremble just the way Dean had, and Dean bites his lip and closes his eyes, forehead leaned on Cas' shoulder.

"I need you", comes Cas' reply, and it's Dean who gasps now when the angel chooses that moment to arch up against him, pressing the proof against Dean's thigh. It's dizzying, the knowledge that it only takes as little as a bit of kissing to drive Cas this far, which doesn't mean Dean is not in an equal state already, but the thought that it's him who does this to Cas is even better than the promise of his own high.

"Would you? Tonight?"

Cas looks up at him when Dean leans back slighly, hopeful and expectant and not shy in the least. 

And damnit, he sounds so needy already, and Dean doesn't have to ask what he means. They've been switching before, a circumstance that they both seem to enjoy a great deal, but it's usually Dean who asks for one or the other - or well, it's usually Cas who manages to coax it out of him. That it's Cas who's asking now...

 "Course, Cas. I said I'd take care of you, remember?"

Dean makes quick work of their pants and underwear, it almost seems like there's too little ceremonial to it, but Cas doesn't seem to mind in the least, eagerly welcomes every touch and press of lips Dean bestows on him. 

His lips trail over the enochian symbols inked into one side of Cas' torso, and Dean remembers it like yesterday, how Cas had carved the warding into his own skin, hiding him from the other angels, a written proclamation that he chose the Winchesters. It makes a wave of possessiveness rush through Dean, and he takes a second to linger there, trail his thumb over words he can't read.

"Nothing will ever take you away from me again, Cas", he hears himself say, kisses the vow into Cas' skin." I won't let anything separate us again, I promise. You're mine now."

Cas' gaze is fixed on his when he looks up, eyes shining, hair a mess, a thin sheen of sweat covering his chest. He hasn't been sweating before, not that Dean noticed anyway, must be a new effect of his low charge on angel-mojo, and he looks...radiant, glorious, gorgeous-

"Fuck, you're so beautiful like this."

He reaches up to brush a damp strand of hair out of Cas' face and the angel smiles, catching Dean's wrist on its way back to use it and pull him up instead, slotting their bodies together and making them both moan into each other's mouths. 

"Dean, please...", he breathes, and there's heat and passion, but no urgency to it. Dean wants to engrave the sound in his mind for all eternity. 

"Shush", he soothes, pressing a chaste kiss to Cas' cheek in contrast to the way his hip presses down more firmly. "My perfect angel..."

Cas groans, tries to buck his hips up against Dean in search for some long-needed friction, but Dean holds back, determined to keep control over himself and his thinking for as long as possible, knows just how easy it is for Cas to turn him into a writhing puddle of goo. But not now, this isn't about him, he won't lose himself yet, he-

Cas seems to have other plans. 

 Before Dean knows what has happened, he finds himself flipped on his back with a lapful of angel, pinning his wrists to the bed. 

"Hey, there." He lifts a questioning eyebrow at Cas hovering above him and allows himself a second to revel in the fact that even without his mojo, Cas is still strong enough to just do that to him. (It's all kinds of hot. Not that Dean would ever admit that.) 

"What happened to me taking care of you?"

Not that he's complaining though, he can totally get on board with this, and the mischievous sparkle in Cas' eyes when he leans down has Dean swallow in anticipation. 

"Oh, you are", the angel breathes into his ear, voice even lower than usually. "And you will."

And then Cas is releasing his hands and his weight vanishes shortly, leaving Dean confused for a second, but only a second, because that's about as long as it takes for Cas to get them both where he wants them.

"Cas, what are you-", Dean begins, only to break off with a strangled oh, fuck when Cas all of a sudden sinks down on him without any preamble. 

Well. So much to keeping control over this.

There are a lot of things that are swirling through Dean's head in that moment, things like What the hell, Cas? and What about prep? and What about your grace?, but it all gets lost in the mist that settles over his thoughts by the overwhelming sensation, the sudden surge of pleasure that drowns out everything but Cas and the way their bodies are joined. 

And when he pulls Dean up and into a kiss, both immediately wrapping around each other, holding each other close while their bodies slowly start rocking together into blissful oblivion, Dean couldn't care less about anything but the angel in his arms.

~oOo~

"Was it different?", he asks afterwards, when Cas is tucked under his arm with his head on Dean's shoulder, a hand placed over his heart. "Without your grace?"

"Not much." The tips of Cas' fingers are grazing Dean's tattoo, absentmindedly repainting the shape and making his skin tingle pleasantly while a peaceful heaviness settles in their bodies. "Perhaps it should be. Our grace, as a side-effect, is meant to...dull any physical sensation, to shield us from it. But I'm not surprised it doesn't feel like that. It was never just about the sensation for me", Cas states plainly, and even though Dean knew, it makes his heart skip a beat. He wonders if Cas can feel it under his palm, but if he did, he doesn't show it, just shrugs lightly to himself. 

"It's always been...intense", Cas says then. "Because it's you."

Dean hums in acknowledgement, buries his nose in Cas' hair and just breathes him in for a moment, seeking confirmation once more that all this is real, that all this is his.  

"Thank you for coming back to me", he mumbles against Cas' temple, says it for all the times he didn't say it, and he can feel how the angel smiles against his skin.

"Thank you for letting me."

And I'm never letting you go again, Dean thinks as he pulls Cas even closer, the angel cuddling against him with a happy sigh.

And just like that, as he lies there, without a thought, without a plan, without a care - he says it.

"Marry me."

Chapter Text

Marry me.

Cas' breath hitches in his throat. He'd been almost asleep a second ago, comfortably cuddled to Dean's side, their bodies warm and sated. Now his eyes snap open, and for a moment he's sure he must have misheard, if it weren't for Dean's heart suddenly beating away furiously under his palm where it's placed on Dean's chest, mirroring tact and intensity of Cas' own. 

"C-Come again?"

He shifts slightly, still half lying down but turns enough to look at Dean. He watches how the hunter's expression takes on a doubtful shadow, insecurity nagging at the hopeful shimmer in his eyes and making him nervously bite his lip.

"Shit." Dean smiles wryly, drives a hand over his face. "Sorry, I- I didn't mean to do it like that, but..." He trails off, lowers his eyes to where Cas' fingers are still splayed out over his chest, absentmindedly starts stroking the back of each one so he has an excuse not to meet Cas' eye.

"Okay, look, I- I know it's too soon, we only just really found each other and it's stupid because we can't even have a legal one anyway. I mean neither of us even exists on paper, but..."

He glances up at Cas, too quick to catch the smile that the angel can feel spreading across his face before he's already looking down again, shaking his head to himself. 

"I'm sorry. It was probably stupid. I shouldn't have-"

"Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean's head snaps up so fast Cas feels like bursting with fondness.

"It's not stupid", Cas says, the smile widening at the impossible amount of barely concealed hope that lights up in Dean's eyes.

"It's not?"

"No. Not at all."

"Oookay...?" Dean raises an expectant eyebrow, the hint of an insecure but promising smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"So if you are genuine about it, then yes." 

Cas is surprised himself how calm he sounds, quite the contrast to the giddy feeling in his stomach that only keeps growing the longer Dean stares at him, apparently trying to grasp the full meaning behind that simple phrase.

"You serious?", he finally says once it seems to settle, and the dumbfounded expression on his face might have been funny if it wasn't so adorable.

"Yes."

Cas smiles and Dean's eyes somehow manage to widen even more.

"You'll..." He swallows. "...marry me."

"Yes."

"Like...for real?"

"Dean."

"Yeah." Dean snaps out of his trance, actually blinks several times to refocus. "Y-Yeah. Sorry."

It's endearing, the way Dean obviously doesn't seem to be able to believe it, but it also serves to wake an uncomfortable feeling in Cas' gut. Was it just the suddenness of his own question that caught Dean off guard or could Dean really have been expecting him to say no? Or is it something else entirely? Perhaps he'd surprised himself by asking in the first place. It's not as if Cas has been expecting that question, now, or ever. He hadn't been sure Dean was the type for marriage. Or at least he hadn't thought Dean would take himself as the type for it. 

And that's how Cas finds himself with something heavy clouding the first surge of thoughtless happiness, because none of this would be worth anything if it doesn't hold what it's promised. None of this is worth anything if it doesn't hold the same joy for Dean as it would for Cas.

"Are you sure you want that, though?", is what Cas says therefore, carefree smile turned serious. 

A furrow forms between Dean's brows.

"What do you mean?"

The hunter's own smile fades when Cas sighs, and the angel almost wishes he hadn't said anything. But he knows he has to. This is too big, too important.

"Marriage...even one that's not verified, it's...a big step", he says slowly, taking hold of Dean's hand in what he hopes will be a reassuring manner, a silent communication that Cas is in no way trying to reject him. "It's a commitment for eternity, or it should be, anyway. I know...this is no issue. There's no doubt that there will never be anyone else for me", Cas says, shortly marvelling in the fact that saying such things aloud is as easy as breathing by now. "And I know you feel the same way, Dean, I trust you. I only mean that it's a sort of declaration I want to be sure you're ready for."

He lifts his other hand to cup Dean's face, traces his thumb over his cheek in that way that has become so beautifully familiar to him.

"We don't need to be wed for us to be bound and committed. I don't need us to be married. I just want you to know that."

He takes in the way he's still mostly draped over Dean's chest -warm and safe under the covers of their bed, in their room-  lets his eyes wander over their fingers that are tangled together over Dean's warding tattoo, moves up to follow the thumb of his other hand tracing the line of a familiar cheekbone. He smiles.

"This is enough", he promises, and he couldn't be more certain that he means it. 

Dean looks at him for a long moment before slowly placing his hand over Cas' on his cheek, just holds it there while he turns his head to press his lips to Cas' palm. 

"Do you want it, though?", he asks then, still not letting go.

"Dean..."

"Cas." Dean smiles, and it's calm and sure and knocks Cas a little off course. "You said you don't need it. I get that. Neither do I. But would you want it?"

"I..." He hesitates, knowing that he maybe shouldn't tell him the truth. Because Dean is Dean, and if Cas says yes, Dean is going to make sure he gets his wish, never mind his own feelings. And yet Dean's eyes are open and honest and warm, and Cas feels the excuse slipping from his reach.

"Yes", he breathes, and the smile he receives makes it impossible to take it back anyway. "Yes, I...I would. It's just a symbolic act, but a beautiful one. But Dean, people will know", it tumbles from his lips, a last attempt to give the hunter a chance to draw back. "They'll see, wherever we go. At least in case you meant for us...to participate in all traditions that usually go with marriage. Have you thought about this, Dean? Are you okay with what it would mean for you to be wearing that ring?"

Their hands have somehow both found their way onto Dean's chest by now, clasped together, and it's Dean who tightens his hold this time, Dean who grips onto him in both reassurance and the search for support. 

"I have", he says firmly. "And it's part of why I want it. I wanna..." He presses his lips together, but his eyes are determined and never leave Cas'. "I know I'm not good yet...with that whole affection in public business. But it got better. You helped me. And I think this will too. It would...give me a way to show it without actually having to do anything about it, y'know? And I do want that, Cas." Dean smiles, suddenly shy, but no less sure. "I want people to look at me and know that I'm yours. And that you're mine."

There's an unspoken question in those last words, a question Dean surely must know the answer to, but Cas says it out loud anyway, if just to see the hopefulness in those green eyes turn into undisguised joy. 

"I want that too", he smiles, and Dean positively beams at him. 

"So it's settled, then? You're gonna marry me?"

"Yes." Cas shakes his head to himself, smiling so wide it hurts. "Yes, I will."

"Awesome", Dean grins, and then he's kissing him, and thank God he is because if Dean hadn't leaned forward Cas surely would have, craving an outlet for all that giddy happiness inside his chest, giving it way in the press of lips. It's hardly a kiss at all, both smiling too widely so they just end up resting their foreheads together and chuckling into each other's mouths. It's ridiculous and silly and Cas isn't sure anyone has the right to feel this wonderful, but he couldn't care less with the way Dean is wrapping his arms around him, pulling him up, over him, closer. 

"And sorry, I don't have a ring yet", Dean breathes in the space between them, nuzzling Cas' cheeks and making him hum contently. "This was kinda...spontaneous."

"That's fine."

To be honest, Cas hardly knows what he's saying, he's too wrapped up in everything Dean, okay? But even with clear thoughts he wouldn't have cared. 

"Perhaps you'd like to come to town with me tomorrow and look at some", Dean suggests, casually pressing a small kiss to Cas' pulse point, smiling against his skin when it makes the angel shudder. "Or do you want it to be a surprise?"

"I think I'll be safe with relying on your highly valued opinion there", Cas replies, even though he isn't sure why on earth they might be having a conversation about anything right now, so he kisses Dean so make him shut up. It works for a couple of minutes before they have to draw away for breath, and even with flushed cheeks and kiss-swollen lips, Dean somehow manages to put on a smug grin.

"Good", he says, easily picking up where they left off. "What're you gonna do the whole day without me, though?"

If asked, Cas will strongly deny that he actively chose that exact moment to nibble on Dean's neck, lightly scraping his teeth over that spot that he absolutely doesn't know is one of Dean's favourites. 

"I'm sure I'll find something to occupy myself." 

"Uh, mysterious." Dean sounds a little more breathless now, making Cas smile to himself (not triumphantly, that would be highly presumptuous). "Don't make me pass out on any fun, though."

"Dean." 

He tries to sound reproachful, fails miserably. They both know it, and yet Dean grins when Cas draws back enough to look down at him. 

"What?", Dean says innocently, eyes twinkling. "Can't have you exhaust yourself, sweetheart. You're mostly human now. Only so much exertion that body can take. And I need that for when I get back."

"Is that a promise?"

Dean pulls him down into another kiss, sweet and full of those future promises. 

"Absolutely."

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

The next day finds Dean in front of the nearest jeweller, as promised. It's not the first time he's been here, staring at the displays in the window, but it's the first time he actually sets foot through the door. 

He's set his eye on a plain pair of silver rings, matching in everything apart from the width, the surface smooth but not quite shiny. His hand in the pocket of his leather jacket is playing nervously with the small piece of metal he's carrying with him as he steps up to the counter where the nice lady asks him what he's looking for. Perhaps he stumbles a little bit over the word wedding when asked if there's any special occasion, but the smile he gets when he's pointing out the two obviously man-sized rings in the window calms him a little. 

His hand closes around the object in his pocket when he pulls it out and places it on the counter, and the woman inspects it shortly while he explains what it is and the way he'd like to use it. He blushes at being called thoughtful, and when she tells him his fiancé must be a very lucky man, it feels like breathing to answer that he's the lucky one. 

He pays in advance and leaves with one of the rings in his pocket instead of the small metal piece, the wider one, while the other is left behind to be worked at. And if he can't help but slip his hand in his pocket on his way back to his Baby, feeling the new but already pleasant weight of it in his hand (and maybe even slipping it partway onto his finger a couple of times) - well, then that's no one's business but his own.

When he pulls into an empty parking space a couple of miles out of town and calls for Jack, his smile is easy and his heart light. 

~oOo~oOo~oOo~

Cas is cooking.

Or well, he's trying to cook. 

Sam had come by some time ago to offer help, which Cas gratefully declined, determined to put all this together on his own. Which, in retrospect, might have been a highly unwise decision, but now it's too late to dwell on his folly. It's been a couple of hours since then, actually, but Cas has sort of lost track of time, as well as that initial sense of resolution. He's been a little busy searching around for kitchen supplies he doesn't know where to find, reading the instructions of a recipe he looked up on the internet but doesn't really know how to follow, and generally standing (or running) around without much of a plan. 

At some point he just stopped telling himself that he can save whatever is sizzling away in the pans and threw himself into ambience instead, lighting candles and setting the table with a devotion and precision that surely would have made Mr Carson (the strict Butler from one of his favourite TV shows) proud.

And this is how Dean finds him, standing at the counter with his back to the door, an apron loosely tied around his waist, askew and dotted with splashes of grease. He's panting a bit and swearing a bit more and burning himself on the pan when he tries to pour its contents onto a plate and Dean just can't help but stand in the doorway for a moment, leaned against the frame and watching the scene with a smile on his face, torn between disbelief, amusement and a sheer overwhelming amount of fondness for the dorky angel in front of his eyes. 

"Hey, you."

"Dean." Despite his red face and messy hair (even more so than usual) Cas instantly lights up when he turns and lays eyes on Dean, a shy smile taking over his features when the hunter gestures around in amazement.

"Did you do all this?"

"Yes." Cas bites his bottom lip and follows Dean's gesturing hand with his eyes. "I...ah. I thought I could do something...nice. To celebrate, you know? The...engagement?" He presses his lips together, voice going a little higher at the last word, but a goofy smile breaking through nevertheless. 

It's the most adorable thing Dean has ever seen, this stained angel, illuminated by candlelight, surrounded by the evidence of his endeavour to make a romantic dinner, knowing full well that he has never cooked anything to speak of, yet glowing proudly with the effort he puts into everything he sets his heart on.

"Yeah...speaking of that." Dean takes a step forward and fiddles with one of his old rings he used to wear back in the day. He's not sure why he ever parted with them, really, but now he hopes for one of them to find a new purpose. He holds it out to Cas with a questioning smile.

"It's not the one I was out for today, those will have to wait till the...", he swallows, "The actual, y'know, wedding. But I thought...maybe you'd like something till then? It's nothing, really, just something I had lying around, but-"

"Dean." Cas smiles at him, open and brilliant. He rarely uses pet names, doesn't see any need for them. Dean's name holds so much meaning to him that there's nothing that would be able to compare, and he makes sure to say it with so much reverence that no one could have any doubt what it means. "It's perfect, thank you."

Dean grins and rubs his neck a little awkwardly when Cas holds his hand out, and when he slides the ring in place, he has to take a second to remember to breathe. It's plain shiny silver with a ridge through the middle, a little too big on Cas but not too ill-fitting either, and even though this is not the real thing, it feels like something that had been askew for years finally snaps into place when the ring finds its home on Cas' hand. 

Cas flexes his fingers, a look of pure admiration on his face that Dean simply can't look at any longer or he will end up in a puddle on the floor. He clears his throat, calling Cas' attention back to his face and nods over to the stove.

"So what? You gotta show me what you cooked up over there?"

Cas gestures him to go sit down at the table which is set with a nice white tablecloth Dean wasn't even aware they owned, two candlesticks and even a little flower in a vase. It's camomile, Dean knows they grow outside the bunker and Cas likes them because they represent hope. And attract bees, of course. 

He's still smiling at the little blossom when Cas hesitantly sets down a plate in front of him. It's a burger, at least it's obviously meant to be a burger, a little crooked and with tomatoes that are less than evenly cut, the salad frayed at the edges, cheese running all over the place, but to him it might be the most beautiful burger Dean has ever seen.

Cas gives him a nervous and insecure smile when he sits down opposite Dean, but there's so much hope in his eyes that Dean can't help but smile back in reassurance. 

He picks it up, takes a bite and...chokes. 

He's not quite sure what it is, the burned burger patty alone can't create such a complete fiasco of taste, he's not sure if he wants to know what components have to come together to create whatever he's tasting, it's probably a combination of a million tiny things gone not quite right. He swallows it down, sets whatever it is back onto the plate and blinks a couple of times, desperately fighting down a laugh of joyous disbelief. It might be the worst thing he ever had the displeasure to taste since he learned how to cook himself, but at the same time he loves it with every fibre of his heart. (Don't get him wrong, he doesn't want to eat even one more bite, but he loves the sheer existence of the monstrosity on his plate.)

"Cas." He sends a cautious grin across the table. "I'm so sorry, but this is disgusting." 

"Is it really that bad?", Cas mumbles, and despite the downcast expression on his face, Dean can't suppress the fond chuckle escaping his throat. 

"Dude. It's disgusting."

Cas sighs and leans back against the back of his chair, shoulders slightly slumped and eyes lowered to his feet, and Dean feels the soft smile being wiped from his lips at the sight. 

"No, hey now. Come on." 

He gets up and pulls Cas up as well, immediately wrapping him in a hug, smiling into the angel's hair when he presses a kiss to the top of his head. 

"Yeah...it's awful", Dean says apologetically when he pulls back, lets the grin spread across his face once more. "But I love it. Thanks for making it for me." 

Cas gives him a doubtful look, but still attempts a grateful smile that Dean retunes instantly.

"I'm serious, Cas. I don't care about the food. The only thing that matters is that you made it for me. All the effort you must've put into this." He gestures around, catches the atmosphere of candlelight illuminating the nicely set table. "It's awesome, Cas. I love it. And I love you."

Cas sighs again, shakes his head to himself, but his smile is genuine now.

"I love you too."

He lets Dean pull him up to press their lips together, melting against him for a moment before he suddenly breaks apart just as Dean was trying to deepen the kiss.

"You're right." Cas pulls a face. "I could taste it in your mouth. It is disgusting."

Dean can't help but laugh at that, and Cas soon joins in, leaning against Dean's side when the hunter wraps an arm around his shoulders. 

"What about I take you out to dinner instead, huh?" 

"You don't have to do that."

"I know. I'd like to." Dean grins again. He feels like he's done that so much today it's gonna start to hurt at some point. He wouldn't mind that sort of pain. 

"Come on, man."

He squeezes Cas' arm and the angel rolls his eyes but smiles fondly.

"Thank you, Dean."

They keep throwing glances and little smiles at each other while putting out the candles, and when Dean leads him to the Impala, Cas' hand tingles the whole time Dean holds it. 

The drive is short, quiet and comfortable, the place Dean leads him into a little fancier than they're used to but small and intimate. 

"Dean Winchester", Dean says when the man pointing them in the direction of a free table in one of the corners asks for their names, "and that's..." 

He trails off, looks at Cas with his soft smile and even softer eyes, and he knows there's an equal expression on his face. He takes Cas' hand, squeezes it, his skin grazing over the cool metal on one of Cas' fingers. He doesn't stop looking into Cas' eyes when he speaks. 

"That's my fiancé."

Chapter Text

The following weeks are busy with preparation. Despite Dean's best efforts, Sam and Eileen manage to turn it into a huge thing, when asked only smirking something about it being a one time opportunity to see your ship getting married (and your brother, Sam adds as an afterthought) and even though Cas isn't exactly sure what their wedding has to do with sea travel, he deems it wiser not to asks and just lets them do whatever they're doing.

There are phone calls made, people invited, not many but enough to make Dean sweat at the thought of having to hold a speech (even more so than he would have anyway, that is). Dean and Cas stay mostly out of it, happy to escape the fussing and leave it in Sam's and Eileen's capable hands, even when they might be throwing each other concerned looks from time to time when being asked about things like the colours of flower arrangements and the design for seating cards. The ceremony will be held outside, there are flowers everywhere, it's fucking June, and what the hell does one need a seating plan for when you barely have ten people attending anyway?? But Sam and Eileen seem to be in their element, so they just let it happen, answer dutifully when consulted and secretly freak out about stuff they have to prepare themselves.

Like vows. Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to have the spouses write vows for each other? Dean wonders more than one late night when Cas is asleep in their bed, sitting at his desk with only a small light as not to wake the angel. His basket is overflowing with scumbled paper balls, and he always sees to having it emptied before morning, just to be sure Cas won't see any of his failed attempts at eloquence.

It'll come to him eventually, he tells himself. He has everything else under control. He got the rings, one from Jack, one from the jeweller, and they're both more than Dean could have hoped for. He'd paid the nice lady extra, and when he asked Jack what he could do to thank him, the kid had flashed him an adorable grin, asking without any embarrassment if he could be the flower girl at their wedding. Or well. Flower...Jack, that is.  

I may have Chuck's powers, he had said at Dean's surprised expression, but...I don't see myself as God. I'm still...Jack. Just Jack. And I think that's a good thing.

Dean hadn't quite known what to do with himself after that, and the only answer to the sincere smile on Jack's face had been to hug the boy tightly, telling him that it's a very good thing indeed. 

So here he is. Rings, check. Flower Jack, check. Everything else prepared by his brother and practically sister in law, check.

Vows...not so much check, but they've always been making it up as they go, right?

Yeah, right.

~oOo~

And then the day is there.

Dean is in his room, putting on the blue tie he sneaked out of Cas' closet (Cas will be wearing a pastelly green one, one that belongs to Dean, of course). In a surge of slight hysteria he thinks about if he should put it on backwards, but of course he doesn't, still the thought makes him smile. 

The day is there and he still hasn't decided on the words. 

Why do they need to write vows anyway? As if they hadn't had enough chick-flick moments over the last couple of months. As if Cas hadn't already held a wedding-vow-worthy speech that day. As if they could still say anything the other didn't already know. 

And still Dean knows Cas will come up with something incredible, something that will move everyone to tears, Cas will have the most beautiful, heartbreakingly romantic vows ever spoken among mankind, because Cas just says stuff like that.

But Dean is not that kind of guy. Which really sucks right now, more than ever, because he wants to be. Just for this. Maybe Cas already knows all that crap, but he deserves to hear it again, he deserves to be told every day, and this day above any other. Cas deserves the big heartfelt speech with all the cheesiness and the clichés (simply because they're true), someone pouring their fucking heart out in front of all their friends and family, without a doubt, without fear, without hesitation, without shame. He deserves someone who is eloquence personified, talking about how impossibly and undeniably in love they are, and fuck him Dean is all these things, he just can't say them. He can't even say them properly in the privacy of their room, so how the hell is he supposed to get them out with all those people listening, watching him. 

He's gonna fuck up. He's gonna have the words stuck in his throat, and he's gonna stammer around after Cas gave him the speech of his dreams and oh God, he's gonna be sick. He'll throw up on their wedding day, won't he? Shit. 

He looks in the mirror, his eyes frantic, hairline a bit sweaty, and tie backwards. The tie is backwards. Did he put it on like that after all or did he just screw it up when his thoughts were running amock? 

Either way, the tie is backwards. And it's Cas' tie, a tie out of Cas' closet, a tie that Cas has worn before, and Cas has one of Dean's ties in his room right now, where Cas is getting ready, for their wedding. Cas is going to marry him. 

Oh God

This is their wedding day. And Cas agreed to marry him, Cas agreed even though he knows Dean (because he knows Dean), and Cas knows that Dean's not one for speeches, and Cas won't care. Dean knows he won't care, because it's Cas, and Cas always knows, always understands. 

Dean sucks a big gulp of air into his lungs, closes his eyes and breathes. It's gonna be fine. He can do this. He's written something, he's written pages and pages, created and erased again. The result is sitting on a piece of paper in his breast pocket right now, even though he knows the words by heart, just in case. It makes him feel secure, like he prepared himself a lifeline.

It's not perfect, the words aren't poetic enough, but it's real and it's true and it's what Dean has to give. And it will be enough. Because it's Cas those words are for. And Cas has always been humble in receiving. 

Dean smoothes over the tie with his hand as he readjusts it, now perfectly placed, a nice contrast to his white dress shirt. (He bought a new one, just for this. Didn't want to take one of those they used for their FBI attire.) With a last look in the mirror Dean turns, a newfound determination to his steps as he walks to the door.

He just needs to see him, one last time before it happens. Then it will all be fine.

Taking a deep breath, Dean pushes at the door handle. 

~oOo~

"Cas?"

Dean looks through the gap in the door to Cas' former room as he opens it, feels a weight being liftend off his chest as he spots the angel in front of the mirror, fiddling with his own tie, Dean's tie, the tie Dean had been thinking about just moments ago. Cas turns at the sound of his name, fingers occupied with tying the perfect knot.

"Dean."

"Hey."

He doesn't wait for permission to enter, knows he doesn't need any, just steps inside and closes the door with his back.

"I thought we're not supposed to see each other before the wedding." Cas makes his confused squint at him, but there's a smile on his lips that Dean can't help but mirror.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. But...I needed to." He rubs at his neck, shrugs his shoulders in that bashful way he would only ever let Cas see. "It's not like we're big on convention, anyway."

"I suppose not." Cas turns momentarily to inspect his tie, apparently pleased with the result as he nods to himself before directing his attention back to Dean.

"Are you alright?", he asks Dean surprisingly concerned, stepping forward to glide his hands up and down Dean's arms in a soothing gesture. 

"Oh yeah, sure, don't worry." Dean grins at him, because yes, he is alright. Now he is. "It's not that I'm getting cold feet or somethin'", he jokes as he smoothes over inexistent wrinkles in Cas' shirt, just to be touching as well.

"I would think not. It's 75 degrees outside."

Cas' face is completely serious, and Dean stares at him for a second, then bursts out laughing, earning him another confused frown, and of course, the adorable signature head-tilt.

"What?"

"Oh, nothing, Cas. Nevermind." Dean shakes his head to himself, wondering for the millionth time how he ended up here. "I'm just..." He smiles at Cas, doesn't seem able to stop smiling. "I'm so happy I'm marrying you, y'know."

"Oh. Well." A shy smile tugs at the corner of Cas' mouth as he lowers his eyes for a second. "That's...good. I mean that's..." Dean holds his gaze as Cas trails off, watches him as he seems to gather himself despite the slight blush spreading over his cheeks that Dean needs a lot of self-control not to kiss away. "That's good", he repeats then. "Because I'm very happy to be marrying you, too."

"Good", Dean echoes, smiling like an idiot. "Awesome."

Cas takes his hand, runs a thumb over his knuckles, watching his own movement. When he looks back up, his eyes are bright but thoughtful.

"Are you nervous?", he asks hesitanly, not as if he were afraid of the answer, more like he hopes Dean will say yes, will confirm to him that it's normal, natural, and of course Dean is more than happy to do so.

"Hah." He chuckles to himself, because hell yeah he's nervous! He's fucking terrified. But also...

"Nervous, excited, happy, ecstatic", he tells Cas truthfully, revelling in the relieved smile that spreads over the angel's face.

"But I'm ready", Dean assures him, words that roll from his tongue so much more effortlessly than he'd ever thought possible. "I've been ready for a long time."

Cas smiles at him, and then he feels himself drawn in, a soft kiss pressed to his lips, easy and tender. An answer. A promise. And yes, this is what Dean always wanted, this casual intimacy, touches that feel as natural as breathing.

"I love you", he hears mumbled against his mouth, feels both their lips curl.

"Love you too."

The kiss breaks, but not their embrace as Dean holds Cas close, arms tightening around the angel's back, his nose buried against his neck. And he isn't sure how long they stand there like that, time ticking by while they breathe each other in, seconds that might turn into minutes, hours even without Dean noticing. Time is of no importance anymore, now that he has this, the promise of having this for all eternity.

"It's almost time", Cas whispers against his neck, and shit he's right, maybe time is of importance today, today on their wedding day, a wedding that follows a damn schedule. Damnit.

"Yeah", he mumbles back, voice muffled, making no sign to move.

"We should probably go", Cas says, not moving either.

"Yeah."

"Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"You have to let go of me."

There's a smirk in Cas' voice and Dean encircles him more insistently.

"Don't wanna."

He can feel Cas smile against his neck.

"It won't be for long", Cas promises, smoothing a hand over Dean's back. "Soon I'll have you in my arms again and then I'll never let you go."

And finally, Dean loosens his hold, buries his fingers in the angel's shirt instead as he leans back with raised eyebrows, a smile he can't hide destroying the impact (not that he would care right now).

"You're so cheesy", he accuses, and Cas looks at him calmly, one of his own eyebrows lifting.

"You're the one still clinging to me."

"Bastard." 

Dean glares at him when Cas smirks, but lets go anyway, instantly missing Cas' warmth when the angel steps out of his space to retrieve his suit jacket (a dark gray one, goes better with the tie than the ususal blue) and shrugs it on.

"I should probably go ahead", he tells Dean, who nods regretfully. 

"Okay." 

He can't resist grabbing Cas' tie when he passes though, probably ruining the knot Cas had worked on so carefully, but who cares about neatly bound ties when you can use them to pull your angel into a last peck on the lips right before you're about to go and tie The Knot? 

"See you at the altar", Dean says against those lips before he lets go, smirking when Cas rolls his eyes fondly, walking to the door.

"I'll be there waiting for you."

~oOo~

When Dean steps out into the warm air, the sun shining down on the green grass, a light breeze moving the trees, he has to take hold of Sam's arm for a second. This is real, this is happening, everything seems to be fucking perfect, which should be a sign that it's in fact not real, because this is not the reality he's used to, and yet it is. It's perfect, and it's real, and it's now. 

Sam doesn't say anything while Dean clings to him, doesn't ask, just throws him a knowing smile and squeezes Dean's hand on his arm for a second. And then they're moving, their feet finding their way through the trees and onto a clearing where everything has been set up, and Dean has never felt so week in the knees before, not in front of any creature he fought, not the way he does now when everyone turns around and watches them, him, as he walks down the path by his brother's side. He tears up just a little bit looking at the people gathered here, Donna, Jody and the girls, Garth and his wife, Charlie and Bobby from the other universe, even Crowley and Rowena. It does have some advantages to have the almighty God (sorry, the almighty Jack) at your wedding, stuff like getting the current Queen of Hell out of said Hell to officiate a wedding even though she's sort of dead becomes considerably easier, as well as having her annoying son back from the Empty, because even when he's a prick, he has grown on you like a creepy cousin you still can't help but want to invite to family gatherings. 

Because that's what this is - a family gathering. All these people that seem like a bunch of random individuals, thrown together by the forces of...fate? Destiny? Coincidence? It doesn't matter, because that's exactly what they are, and yet they're so much more. These are people that should never have met, people that should have been enemies, people that were enemies once, people that are only here because they chose to be. 

Because family don't end in blood, after all.  

Dean swallows hard and tries to concentrate on his feet as Sam leads him towards the path that has been left free between the rows of chairs on both sides, chairs that are occupied with loving hearts and smiling faces, and he really hopes he won't fucking faint before he even walked down the aisle because breathing doesn't seem like an available feature right now. His shaky legs struggle not to give out under him and he has to lean against Sam for support, looking down at his feet to make sure they don't tangle. 

He's half-aware that Jack is walking in front of them, throwing flowers that seem unnecessary to Dean because the path has already cheesily been laid out with white rose petals anyway, but he supposed if it makes the kid happy, then screw it. None of this is really about logic or efficiency anyway. 

Which might actually come to his benefit, seeing to that he realises just now he might have forgotten his vows after all. He learned them, he knows he did, and they were there a minute ago, but of course they're gone now, the drawer in his mind spelling nothing but file not found. Awesome. 

Yeah okay he told himself he wouldn't panic. He promised himself he wouldn't panic. But his legs are wobbly and his breathing is barely there and he forgot the fucking vows and oh shit he's panicking isn't he, he-

He looks up and there he is.

He couldn't see Cas before, the sight of him blocked first by trees and then their guests, but now he's there, beautiful, radiant, calm and smiling, waiting for Dean just like he'd said, and Dean can breathe. His lungs fill with the fresh summer air just as his chest fills with a peaceful certainty, and yeah it's a cliché again but there you are. 

Dean's eyes don't leave the angel for a split second while he walks the rest of the way, no longer in need of controlling his feet, they've always known how to lead him to Cas, anyway.

Sam smiles and hugs them both when they reach the front of the path where Cas and Rowena are waiting, and Dean thinks to hear how he tells Cas to take good care of him, and then Sam has joined Eileen in the first row (he being Cas' Best Man and her Dean's Maid of Honour), everyone else is sitting down, and then there's only Cas. 

Rowena starts talking, and he's sure whatever she's saying is beautiful, there's a laugh here and there as her nice Scottish lilt echoes through the woods and over the nearby lake, but Dean is captivated by blue eyes and the curve of lips curled up in a smile. 

All too soon and yet not nearly soon enough there's silence settling over them, except for the breeze moving the leaves and birds singing in the branches, at it takes him a second to understand that they have been addressed, grateful when Cas clears his throat, ripping Dean out of the spell he's been caught in for who knows how long, and maybe...just maybe Cas needs to gather himself too, needs to remind himself where they are and what is happening around them, needs to remind himself that he and Dean aren't the only people left in the world, as much as it might feel like it right now. 

Because...why again? Ah, vows. They're supposed to say their vows now.

Right. 

Chapter Text

"Dean."

The angel's smile impossibly brightens, and Dean can already feel his eyes beginning to sting from that one word alone, his name spoken with so much reverence and adoration.

"I have thought very long about what I might say today. And I didn't really get to an answer, because there are just too many things that would be worth saying about you, and I don't want to bore our friends with my List of a Billion Reasons to Love Dean Winchester. They know well enough themselves. But you..." Cas sighs, but it's not a sad sigh exactly, just a knowing one. 

"You don't. You will never be able to comprehend the depth of what you've done for me, Dean. Even I find it hard to grasp sometimes. It's beyond description, beyond anything that I might be able to repay. But I will try anyway." He pauses for a second, furrowing his brow adorably. "The describing and the repaying, that is", he then adds for clarification, and Dean feels a giddy chuckle bubble out of his chest, mixing with those from their forgotten audience. 

"You gave me freedom", Cas continues seamlessly, and it's a miracle to Dean how he manages to mix the gravitas of his tone with the light smile displayed on his face. "You gave me a voice, a purpose. You gave me a family and a home. You gave me a life, Dean. You taught me how to feel, how to care, how to love. And I intend to spend the rest of my life showing you all that I've learned." 

Cas lifts a hand to his face and wipes at his cheek, and dammit, Dean didn't even notice he'd started crying until one of the tears catches on Cas' thumb.

"You're my guidance and my direction", Cas says, hand lingering on his cheek, "you're my bravery and my strength. You're my protection, my safety, my shelter. You're my home. When we met, you were my mission, my charge. But you became so much more. You became everything.

"And it didn't need fate", Cas says, and Dean shakes his head against the angel's palm in confirmation, "the only thing I ever needed to love you was your permission. You're not my destiny. But you're my future. You're the future I chose, the future I keep choosing, every day."

The hand finally sinks from his face, but only to join with the other, taking both of Dean's hands in a comforting embrace.

"I love you how no angel has ever loved another being, and all I can do is thank you for accepting that love, and giving yours in return. And I promise that I will treasure it, cherish it, and never take it for granted, just as I will treasure and cherish you. I'll go with you, watch over you, and love you. Because I do. I love you, Dean. More than you will ever know."

It takes Dean a moment to realize that Cas has finished, and another to pull himself together enough that hopefully his voice will be reasonably steady for his own speech. He would wipe the tears from his cheeks but knows there's no use, and when Cas tries to free a hand from where they're clasped together between them, assumably to do the same thing, Dean stops him instinctively by gripping tighter, holding onto him like a lifeline. 

Touching Cas has always been grounding, and it's no different now. He closes his eyes for a second, feels the warm skin of the angel's hands in his, breathes. 

Then he finally opens his eyes, and opens his mouth. And it's so easy. There's no one there, there's only Cas and the love in his eyes, and the words flow like the waterfalls Dean can envision in those blue depths. 

"Heya, Cas..."

"Hello, Dean", Cas says, apparently unable to help himself, making Dean smile. 

"How do you even begin these sort of things?" 

Cas smiles wryly, shortly squeezes Dean's hands in understanding, comforting him already through such little, insignificant things, telling him he knows of Dean's struggling, that it's okay, and is it possible to die from your heart swelling with too much love?

"Look, there's nothing I could say that's half as romantic as the stuff you came up with, but...I just-" He trails off, needs a second to just look at him, take him in, let it settle that they're here, that he's here with Cas. 

"I'm just so damn grateful, Cas", he hears himself say then, not sure if it's the words he wrote on a piece of paper beforehand or simply words his heart is writing for him right this moment. "I know it's a frickin cliché line, and- and I probably shouldn't be swearing so much during this, should I?" He shakes his head to himself, Cas' smile widening. "Well. What I'm trying to say is...I never thought I'd be here. I never thought I'd get married, ever, I never thought I'd even live to get married, let alone find someone who...who I would want to spend the rest of my life with. Someone who can actually be part of this life, my life. Someone who gets that, gets me, and wants to be with me anyway. Someone who's It for me."

And who would ever have thought that that someone would even exist, let alone turn out to be an angel, gripping him tight and raising him from perdition, among other things.

"And Cas, you're It. You know that, right?"

Cas presses his lips together and nods, coaxing another giddy smile out of Dean.

"I didn't, for a long time", he says truthfully. "I didn't because...I didn't know what it's like to find something...to have something that's good, and just for me. I never had anything that was only mine, and certainly not good things. The ugly bits, the messy parts, the stuff that makes people leave...those were for me, because of me. And even you..."

He sighs, sad yet grateful that these times are behind them, that he can look back at it now, the broken road they've wandered for so long, never knowing it led them straight to each other.

"I didn't know, didn't trust you to stay, so I made you leave. But you never wanted to, you just didn't think you were wanted back. But I wanted you. I've always wanted you, Cas. When you were up in Heaven, being an angel, when you became human, God I wanted you. I just never knew how to say it, didn't know how to make you ask.

"We know how to save each other, have saved each other in so many ways, and I don't just mean from perdition, you fucking drama queen." He grins when Cas laughs a breathy laugh, strangled by the happy tears in his voice. "You have saved me from myself, my anger, my fear that all I'm worth is a means to an end. And I think...I think I know it now, Cas. Because you told me. You taught me who I am. And isn't that quite a thing? Because I am who I am...because of you. And I know what you're gonna say", he continues quickly, a hint of amusement in his voice when he spots the furrowed brow he knew would appear at his words. "But it's true. I know it's true. When you said all those...impossible, beautiful things to me and I- I just thought...how can he not know? How doesn't he know that he changed me too? Loving you has changed me too, Cas. There's good in me - care, and love, and you've helped that come through."

He lifts one of Cas' hands to his lips, presses a kiss to his knuckles, just because he feels like it, just because he can.

"The first time we met you told me that good things do happen, and ever since you've gone on and on showing me that you're the very best thing that could ever have happened to me. You taught me that it's okay to want things, that I can have them, and I can't wait to spend my life waking up every morning, wondering how I got so damn lucky to get the one thing I never thought I could have." 

His fingers thread with Cas', tightening, searching for hold, calming and connecting, and maybe Cas needs that securing touch just as much as he does right now.

"Your first touch saved me, Cas. And I've gone on too long denying myself, us, that touch again. But not anymore. I love you and I- I-..." He lets himself get lost in the look on Cas' face, something he simply couldn't describe as anything but awe, and he didn't think it was physically possible to love that man more than he already does, but the overwhelming wave of emotion that hits him says otherwise. Dean shakes his head to himself, a giddy sort of disbelief curling his mouth upwards and making him chuckle at the impossibleness of this moment, the unreal amount of perfection that is personified in front of him.

"I..." He drives a hand over his face, grins up at Cas. "I hope we can get through with this quickly because I really wanna kiss you right now."

Cas laughs, happy and carefree, and it's a sound Dean knows will haunt him, burned into his memory, stored away as one of the most precious things his life had to offer. 

"Oh dear..." Rowena wipes at her eyes, careful not to disrupt her artistically applied make-up. "That was...certainly something now, wasn't it." She clears her throat, attempting to chase the hoarseness away all the held-back tears have caused. "I don't believe anyone will mind if we just jump to the important bits...You poor boys really have been waiting long enough. As have the rest of us." She gives them a playfully scolding glance, smirking when Dean raises a warning eyebrow. "Do you have the rings?"

"Oh, yeah." Dean turns with a grin, kneeling down, facing the chair Sam is sitting on. "Come here." He pats his hand against his thigh and the dog lying next to his brother's chair immediately jumps up, wagging his tail as he follows Dean's call, carrying two silver rings that are placed on a cushion in his snout (yeah it's super cheesy, and yeah Dean has spent an unreasonable amount of time training Miracle to carry that cushion. Sue him.)

"Good boy." He takes the rings and quickly combs his fingers through the tousled hair behind Miracle's ears before sending the dog back to Sam and getting up, handing Cas one of the rings - the one with a sliver of a blue glow to it, the one meant for Dean. Cas hasn't seen the rings yet, Dean wanted to keep them as a surprise up until the very end, and maybe he shouldn't be so nervous about that now, surely there's no chance Cas won't like them (he'd probably tell Dean he'd like anything just because Dean chose it), but the way Cas' eyes first widen and then water visibly when he takes in the ring Dean places in his palm fills Dean with a warm fuzzy sense of pride. 

When Cas looks up at him, there's a clear question in his eyes, several actually, things like Did you- and How- And something that is just Oh, Dean..., and Dean can't wait to hear all these spoken in the angel's warm voice, but they'll have time for all that later, so he lets his own gaze say as much. 

The ring's warmth and weight are comfortable and familiar when Cas finally puts it on Dean's finger (he's not gonna admit to any particular number of times he might have slipped it on every now and then since he got it), and when he does the same to Cas, his hands are only mildly trembling. Rowena wastes no time announcing them to be husbands (by the power given to her by...well, herself) and if Dean's silly heart makes a huge leap in his chest at that word, nobody needs to know. 

He's not sure they even waited until she finished the sentence before they're already kissing, the cheering from their friends fading away to background noise as he loses himself in Cas' mouth moving against his, too caught up in the moment to feel conscious about the fact that some of them have never actually seen them do as much as holding hands before. All he can concentrate on is controlling the smile that keeps forming on his lips, almost too big to deepen the kiss - almost, you gotta set your priorities (...straight or whatever). They can taste the tears on each other's lips, but they're hardly the only ones crying (Crowley in particular has been violently sniffing into a black silk handkerchief for some time now).

 And all the while there's a hand pressing into Dean's lower back, a hand with a ring he imagines to feel even through the fabric of his suit jacket. 

~oOo~

The day goes on and everything is so much more perfect than any of them could have dreamed. If the Empty hadn't already tried to take Cas, it certainly would have now, for he can't think of a single moment in his life when he was as happy as he feels today. 

Dean is smiling and carefree, chatting with their friends, eating wedding pie (because of course that's what Sam ordered), laughing about Sam's and Eileen's speeches, accepting wedding present (Rowena's present isn't to be further specified here, but it might give you an idea of its contents to say that to Dean's great embarrassment -and Rowena's great amusement- it comes with a note that says Congrats on Reaching 5th Base)

He's clearly thriving in the midst of his family, that special group of people the Winchesters had assembled over the years, and Cas is indescribably grateful to be one of them, grateful for every single person present for making Dean smile the way that he does. Because it's one of the biggest lessons they'd both had to learn: If you feel drained around someone, they're not for you. And all the love Dean had given to the wrong people...maybe it's finally finding its way back to him.

And all the while Dean barely lets go of Cas' hand, tugging him along wherever he goes. Needless to say that Cas is just too willing to follow. 

I'll go with you, he'd offered countless time. And finally, Dean lets him.

~oOo~

The sun has made its way across the sky for the last couple of hours without them noticing, slowly cooling the air to a pleasant temperature after a day bathed in the warm rays. Before Cas knows it he realizes that it will soon begin to set.

He turns from where he's standing with Claire and Kaia at one of the round tables scattered over the meadow, looking around for Dean who had been gone for some time now after announcing he'd just quickly get something fresh to drink. He should be back by now, Cas just thinks when his as well as all their guests' attention is drawn towards the lake where a small stage has been set up. Until now its only purpose had been to accommodate Dean's old musical equipment, providing them with a pleasant background melody hoovering over everything, enough to set the right atmosphere, yet so subtle it didn't hinder any conversation.

When Cas looks over to it right now though, his eyes widen in surprise. Dean is standing there, a microphone in hand that he clutches just a bit too tightly, looking as if he might faint any moment. 

"Hey, there." Dean smiles nervously, playing with the mic's cable. 

"I...ah. I got a little something I'd like to say and...Not another boring speech, don't worry!", he promises, smirking when he's met with laughter, a bit of the usual cockiness coming through. "Sam covered that one already."

"Hey, I was hilarious!", comes the affronted answer from somewhere behind Cas, making him and everyone else chuckle.

"Yeah, whatever, man."

Dean rubs a hand over his neck, suddenly shy again, more so than Cas can remember seeing him since they got through their first couple of 'chick-flick' moments.

"Anyway, so...I'm just gonna...yeah." He straightens the mic cable that doesn't need straightening, lowers his eyes to order his feet next to the mic stand, clears his throat. When his gaze comes up again it searches the crowd, the hint of a smile curling the corner of his mouth when he finds who he's been looking for. 

"Cas." Dean's eyes are fixed on him and Cas' heart skips a beat. "This is for you."

He turns shortly to gesture for the music to start, and as soon as the first notes fill the air, Cas feels like he's floating. He would recognize that melody anywhere, has been listening to it countless times, and it's one of Cas' favourite songs, one of the songs he didn't even think Dean would remember. (He'd given Dean a mixtape of his own (Sam helped him with it), but he hadn't been able to resist and made it Cas' Top 13 Taylor Swift Traxx. And even though this song isn't part of it, it's so perfect he doesn't even mind it's not one of the Taylor Swift songs.)

Dean has closed his eyes as he stands there on the stage, breathing, and as soon as he opens his mouth and the first words float through the air, Cas is lost. It only takes seconds for him to be hit by the familiar wave of emotion it has always caused to well up in him, only stronger, heavier, because this is not only a song he associates with Dean, it's Dean singing that song, for him. 

What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawin' me in and you kickin' me out
You've got my head spinnin', no kiddin'
I can't pin you down

Cas' feet start moving of their own accord, watery eyes never leaving Dean, drawn towards him by that invisible string that has always been there between them, held, connected, bound. 

What's goin' on in that beautiful mind?
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me
But I'll be alright

He's moving through the group of people like in a trance, barely aware who or what he passes, solely focused on that one point in the universe, that one man his own universe has long been built around. 

My head's under water, but I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

And just as he reaches the front, Dean chooses to open his eyes, green meeting blue, and he smiles, freezing Cas' feet to the ground, unable to do anything but stare, stare and listen. 

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginnin'
Even when I lose, I'm winnin'

There can be no doubt that these lyrics are more than just words to them, that Dean has not just chosen this because he knew Cas liked it. He means them as he sings them, just like Cas has meant them every time he listened to it and thought of Dean. Cas can hear their reality in his voice, can see it in his eyes, in the way he stands, in the way he breathes. 

Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, oh-oh

This is not just a gesture, it's not a message, not even a promise. It's truth.

And Cas wouldn't be able to say it's really a conscious decision that drives him to do what he does next, it just happens, an instinct, a desire, a need, and before he knows it he's opened his mouth, sings out the words he knows by heart as he makes his way towards the stage. (It's Dean's turn to stare now, microphone suspended in mid-air, his mouth already open and ready to form the next line, but instead he finds himself silenced, watches in amazement how Cas climbs the steps of the stage, never breaking eye contact.)

How many times do I have to tell you?
Even when you're crying, you're beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I'm around
Through every mood

You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can't stop singing, it's ringing
In my head for you

And then Dean seems to have overcome his first surprised shock, his eyes no less awed, mouthing along with the lines Cas is singing to him, for him. 

My head's under water, but I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

And Cas can see Dean's eyes glistening now that he's up close, can see in the way he sets his jaw that he prepares to take over again as it goes into the chorus, but the lyrics never leave Dean's mouth, or maybe they do, simply swallowed up by Cas desperately pressing his lips to Dean's. He thinks there might be cheering somewhere nearby, but his head can't care whether it's there and where it comes from. He can't even be sure the world around them still exists at all. Because despite the first surprise Dean is kissing him back eagerly, arms coming around to circle him protectively, just lets the song play on in the background even when they break the kiss, leaning their foreheads together and breathe, laugh, smile, breathe. Cas presses his mouth to Dean's cheeks, dries the tear stains with his lips, whispers thank you in his ear. 

Dean doesn't say anything, but he doesn't need to, the fact that he follows Cas when he pulls him off the stage and onto the dancefloor is enough, how he instantly falls into the slow swaying rhythm Cas sets to the ongoing melody, how he holds him tight, rests his chin on Cas' shoulder. And just as the song enters the bridge, Cas can hear the faint murmer of whispered words next to his ear, quietly sung to him and him alone, a private moment of intimacy even though they're still surrounded by people (people who've been watching them with tears in their eyes this whole time). 

Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts
Risking it all, though it's hard

Cas closes his eyes, not caring if the tears start falling again and dampen Dean's suit where he buries his face in his neck, lets his body and mind go numb to everything that isn't Dean's warmth and Dean's voice. 

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginnin'
Even when I lose, I'm winnin'

'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you.

~oOo~

"Look at that."

Cas lets his gaze wander over the lake that glitters in the sunset, the cool breeze a pleasant feeling against his skin. The woods are calm and beginning to turn grey around them, here on the bench they snuck away to, eager to finally escape the hustle of their wedding celebrations and have a moment to themselves. The music and chatter are muffled in the distance, a quiet reminder of the joy this day has brought, and keeps bringing.

"It's beautiful."

"Yes, it is," Dean says where he's sitting next to him, but when Cas turns his head, the hunter's eyes are fixed on him, not the play of light and colour in front of them. He can't help but roll his eyes with a fond smile, turning his own attention back to the sunset they explicitly came here to watch. (Not that he would disagree with the sentiment that the man next to him is far lovelier to look at, but he'll have plenty of time learning every single one of Dean's features he hasn't memorized already, of that much Cas is finally certain.)

Dean, on the other hand, suddenly doesn't seem to be keen on admiring the wonders of nature. Or of letting Cas do it in peace. For soon enough the angel feels how Dean draws his nose up his neck, nuzzles it into his hair, places a kiss behind his ear, on his pulse point, making Cas shudder. 

"Dean." He's barely doing anything, Cas is well aware of that, and yet this is more than mildly distracting. "What are you doing?"

"Nothin'." Dean's voice is hushed and low, a warm breath of air right next to Cas' ear. "Just enjoying the view."

"You should be watching the sunset, Dean", Cas says (presses out), aware how weak his protest sounds, cursing himself when Dean's teeth scrape his earlobe and his own eyes flutter closed involuntarily. 

"Mhm." Dean hums, trails kisses over his cheek to the corner of his mouth, the vibration doing nothing for Cas' self-control. When he reaches his lips, Cas finally breaks, turns his head enough to kiss him properly, ignoring the self-satisfied smirk that forms on Dean's lips. 

"There." Dean smiles at him when he breaks the kiss, green eyes fixed firmly on Cas'. "Best view I've ever seen." He grins seductively, earning him a huff.

"You're impossible", Cas says scoldingly, unable to hide the amused smile though, and Dean smirks.

"Impossibly in love with my husband." 

He chuckles when Cas playfully punches his shoulder, rubbing the patch for dramatic effect, yet when his eyes find Cas' again, the angel is serious, calm, smiling. 

"Husband", Cas repeats slowly, his tongue wrapping around the word as if he were trying to actually taste it. "I could get quite used to that."

He kisses Dean again, deep and unhurried, before placing an arm on the backrest behind him, his fingers grazing the hunter's shoulder as they look out over the glittering water that reflects the colours of a sky painted in yellows and pinks.

There's a moment of silence while they watch the sun sink lower, more than halfway disappearing at the horizon, the last rays of light that mark the end of a perfect day, the beginning of a perfect life. 

"Are you happy, Cas?"

It's been right here on this bench that Dean had asked him that, barely a year ago in fact, yet it feels like a different lifetime. Cas hadn't known what to say, then. He knows now.

"Yes", he answered without a thought, not a moment's hesitation. "Yes, I am. Very much."

"Good." Dean smiles, Cas knows that he smiles, even without having to look. "Me too."

He lets his arm fall, sneaks it around Dean's waist to pull him closer and into his side, delighted to find that Dean instantly melts into him, wiggling a bit lower on the bench so he can place his head on Cas' shoulder. Cas' cheek settles on his head as they look out into the world, their world, a world that's safe and beautiful. 

And no, happiness is still not in the having. 

It's in the saying, in the being. It's in the giving.

And the having, the having is a gift.

Chapter Text

On the first day of the rest of their lives, Dean and Cas will wake up not much differently than they did the last couple of months. Dean, half draped over Cas' chest, his head resting on his shoulder and one hand splayed out over his heart. And Cas, with an arm slung around Dean's waist to keep him close, breath ghosting through Dean's hair, their legs tangled together and still pleasantly aching from the previous night's activities. 

It won't be the first time they wake up like that, and it will be far from the last. What will be new though are the rings on their fingers.

Cas had finally asked about them when they were alone and peacefully tucked away in their bedroom the previous evening.

"Is that-...is that my grace?", he'd asked and pointed to Dean's ring, swallowing hard because he was pretty sure to know the answer already. 

Dean's smile was confirmation enough.

"Jack helped me."

"How does it feel?"

"Warm", Dean had answered. "Calming. Like having a piece of you with me all the time." Which, in fact, is exactly how it is. "I wanted you to have something similar, but I'm afraid it's not quite the same", he'd gone on with an apologetic shrug. "Could hardly use my actual soul or somethin'. So..."

Dean had reached for Cas' hand, traced his thumb over the ring before pointing at the middle part, a slightly rougher and darker-coloured stripe of metal, separated from the outer silver of the ring by two shallow grooves. 

"See that?" 

Cas nodded.

"That's...ah. That's a bit of metal that used to be part of Baby's old bumper. Had it still lyin' around after the last time I had to replace it. Could never bring myself to part with any of her stuff y'know. Thought I might just as well bring it to good use...might be stupid but..." He blushed slightly, eyes suddenly widening. "But don't think I'm trying to compare you to my car, because of course you're more important! Geez, I didn't really think this through." (Lie. He had thought about it for weeks) "Sorry, I just...couldn't think of anything else-"

"Dean." Cas has taken Dean's hand, stopped him from wringing them nervously in his lap.

"Yeah?" His eyes shot up, insecure yet hopeful, and Cas could feel a fond smile forming on his lips.

"It's beautiful", he'd told him truthfully, sincerely. "I know how much you love that car. Not the same way you love me, of course", he'd assured softly when Dean's hand twitched in his. "But she's been your companion, even your home for a very long time. I'm honoured you chose this as a symbol to represent your soul, something equalling my grace. It was very thoughtful."

Dean's mouth had curled into a wry smile, warming Cas from the inside.

"You really like it?" 

"I love it."

And finally Dean grinned, wide and happy.

"I love you", he'd countered and Cas chucked.

"I know. I love you too."

And Cas fell asleep with Dean in his arms and a smile on his face later that night, thinking about how he had everything he could ever have wished for. He has friends, a family, interests, passions, a husband (who happens to be his best friend and greatest passion), and this night is only the beginning of their happiness. 

Neither of them can know yet that there will be many more days just as perfect as this one. All they have to do is live them. 

 

There will be days when Dean will show Cas how to cook, or to bake pie, and it will end with Cas accidentally knocking over the flour just as Dean leans down to set the oven to the right temperature, covering him in powder. And Dean will curse and Cas will chuckle and Dean will grab a fistful of flour and throw it - and that's how they'll both end up on the kitchen floor as a hysterical, giggling, kissing mess of white.

 

There'll be many days that will find Cas engrossed in a book, and Dean engrossed in Cas. Sometimes Dean will just watch, the way Cas' face twitches, how his brows draw together, his jaw tightens, his eyes widen at particularly engaging paragraphs, waiting for the little smiles of satisfaction that occur when the story unfolds to his liking. And sometimes Dean will watch and listen, they still have to go through all of Austen's works, after all. But either way, Dean will sit quietly and smile, thinking to himself how lucky they are, and how amazing it is to feel completely and utterly content. 

 

On one day in the soon future, Cas will catch Dean playing with his wedding ring, turning it nervously on his finger like he had seen him doing so often since they got married. He hadn't given it much thought at first, but spotting it more and more frequently, especially in situations that left Dean uncomfortable, the angel couldn't help but start to worry. 

"Are you having second thoughts?", it tumbles unbidden from his lips that day, his insecurity making way even though he's more than sure that can't be the case. Dean has seemed so happy lately. He's told Cas he's happy. He's shown Cas he's happy.

"What?" The confusion on Dean's face is genuine and Cas will feel bad for asking, but he'll ask anyway.

"Marrying me." 

"Wha-" Dean's eyes will widen in shock. "No. Cas...no! Why would you think that?"

A nod to Dean's ring finger, the way he's still fiddling with it just as they speak.

"You're always...fussing with it. Taking it on and off, turning it around. I thought...", Cas will have to lower his eyes, sad to hear the words leave his own mouth, "maybe you're not comfortable wearing it after all. Which would be fine! You don't have to if you don't-"

"Cas." And there Dean will be, shutting him up with a soft smile and an even softer kiss to his lips. "I do that because it calms me", he'll explain. "Every time I'm nervous I touch the ring and I think about what it means, I think about what I have here, with you, with us. It's like..a substitute for touching you, I guess. It grounds me."

"Oh." A shy, relieved smile will form on Cas' lips, making Dean kiss them again.

"You didn't really think I could regret marrying you, right?", he'll ask, and Cas will find the answer more easily than he thought.

"No", he'll say, certain that he means it, and Dean will nod with a smile.

"Good."

 

At some point there will be a day when they leave the bunker, all of them, Sam and Eileen too, move all their stuff to the two houses they bought, close to each other, on the countryside with some lands around, fireplace and windows and white picket fences and everything. 

 

Many days will find Dean and Cas shopping together as they had before, only that Dean is confident enough to take Cas' hand on his own by now, leading him down the aisles with sure steps and a warm grip. Cas still always wears his trenchcoat when they go out, even now that Dean has been stocking the closet in their new bedroom with a bunch of everyday clothes for the angel. He likes to see Cas wearing them, not as much as he likes Cas wearing his clothes, but they can hardly share Dean's sparse wardrobe on a daily basis. The coat stayed though, and he isn't sorry Cas insisted on keeping it, knows that coat like he knows the back of his hand.

So when on one of those particular shopping days he's missing just a few coins to pay, it's no surprise he'll reach into one of Cas' pockets, doesn't even think about it twice before his hand already vanished beneath the fabric. Instead of the expected spare dollar though, his fingers will close around something solid and square, his hand producing a familiar object when he retreats it. And if the cashier will wonder about the way Dean's eyes widen in surprise or the way Cas will blush when Dean turns his watery gaze at him, fingers clutched around a mixtape he just pulled from an inside pocket of his coat, close to Cas' heart...well, then that's nobody's business but their own. 

 

One particular day will stay in all their minds for a long time. It's the day Sam and Eileen get married, once again a day filled with family, tears, smiles and laughter. And even though, in Dean's humble opinion, it will never be able to compare to their own wedding day, it gets stored away in that special place for very precious memories.

Another one of those is the day Jack graduates. Cas has been homeschooling him until he didn't need to alter his body's appearance too much anymore to fit in with the rest of the class, but Dean insisted that he makes the experience of going to a public school at least for the last couple of years. Moving around too much to ever make any real friends, he knows how it is to pass out on relationships with people your own age, and he wouldn't allow Jack to lose more of his childhood than he already had. (Only rule when making friends: Don't tell them you spend your free time being God. At least not immediately.) 

 

There will be days when Dean takes Cas to the garden centre and learns about types of soil and watering and solanums, and he'll make sure to especially inquire which flowers attract the most insects so they have bees around.

 

Then there will be days that have Dean and Cas driving in Baby, and Dean will finally be free to do what he'd imagined for so many years, driving just like this. He'll look at his fingers wrapped around the steering wheel, at the ring that resides so comfortably on one of them. He'll throw a glance at Cas by his side, at the ring on Cas' hand, then at his face, will find the angel looking back at him, smiling softly. And Dean will do what he wanted to do for so long, reach out, take Cas' hand, pressing a kiss to his knuckles with his eyes fixed on the road, then dropping their entwined fingers between the seats. And he won't look at Cas again, wouldn't be able to handle the look in his eyes he knows would be there, not if he doesn't plan on driving into a tree or something. Instead, he'll just hold on until they arrive wherever they're headed.

 

One day Cas will get a cat. It's a skinny thing, black with white paws and ears. Cas will name her Socks. She'd been sneaking around their home for a couple of weeks, greedily licking up the bowls of milk and devouring bits of sausage Cas had snuck out when Dean wasn't looking. He supposes if Cas is already feeding the damn cat anyway, it won't make much of a difference (and he couldn't have said no to those big blue puppy dog eyes anyway). The happy expression on the angel's face when the cat rolls up in his lap for the first time makes up for any cat hair woven into the armchair's cushion, and Dean can't help the laugh bubbling out of his chest when Cas will look up from the sleeping cat he'd been petting, face displaying equal amounts of alarm and amazement, and ask: "Is it supposed to vibrate?"

 

Next to the days there will be nights. Calm nights of cudding, heated nights, passionate and desperate, savoured nights, slow and unhurried. There will be few days spent apart, and no nights at all. Because nights are sacred, and even on the rare occasion of a fight, they quickly figured out that neither ever wants to sleep alone again (and that days of built-up frustration are a guarantee for awesome nightly make-up sessions...)

Most nights will be peaceful and happy though, and barely a year after they settled in their new home, Dean will subconsciously reach for the knife he's had residing under his pillow ever since he can remember, but in place of a cold sharp edge he'll find a warm soft hand there, and he won't be sure if he should be mad at Cas for removing the knife, but he won't care, because when he entwines his fingers with Cas' instead of gripping the handle, he feels safer than any weapon has ever made him feel. 

 

There will be days spent in the garden Cas tends to positively religiously (pun intended), with Dean relaxing in a chair, bathing in the warm sun while Cas checks on the beehives Dean built for him. Or Cas will be planting some new discovery he made in one of those online apiarist forums he's part of, because "Did you know that the phacelia is also called Bee's Friend, Dean?" And no, obviously Dean didn't know that, but he's just too happy to take Cas out and buy some, and he'll watch him while he plants them, and just as Cas gets up from the spot he'd been kneeling at for too long, knees aching, sweat on his brow from the sun even beneath the ridiculously adorable straw hat he wears, his hands covered in dirt - Dean will wrap his arms around him from behind and press a kiss to the nape of his sweaty neck.

"You know what I haven't told you today?", he'll murmur, Cas humming back like the bees that will soon buzz in those flowers of his.

"No", Cas will say, a pleased smile in his voice, "what?"

And Dean will tighten his hold with an equal smile. 

"That I love you."

 

Some days they'll have dinners with Sam and Eileen, and some days a few years later they'll look after their little niece and nephew while their parents go out to dinner on their own. They'll watch them grow and play and laugh, happy children with happy childhoods.

Their own children might not grow in height anymore, but Jack and Claire still grow in character, and it's just as much a joy to watch as it is to see the little ones turning into teenagers, adults, parents of their own.  

 

Some day along the way will have Dean standing in front of the bedroom mirror, smiling when he sees grey in his hair, because he simply can't believe he actually made it this far, and Cas will come up to him, hugging him from behind with his chin on Dean's shoulder and painted with some grey of his own. And he'll point out with a smile that most people wouldn't rejoice about this, but what could bear more truth than Dean replying that they certainly aren't most people.

 

And then, finally, after years and years, when their children's children have grown up, and Dean and Cas have watched it all, side by side, a day will come when they know. They won't be sure how, maybe it's something Jack arranged so they have time to say a temporary goodbye to their friends and family. And that's what they will do, returning to their bedroom after a day spent with all the people they love. 

"You ready?", Dean will ask, a wrinkly hand searching for Cas' under the blanket.

"Yes." Cas will squeeze his fingers, smiling calmly. And despite the lump in his throat, Dean won't be afraid, and he'll know neither is Cas. 

"See you soon", he'll say. "Love you."

"I love you, too."

He'll fall asleep that night with a feeling of peacefulness filling his whole body, and when he opens his eyes again, their bedroom will be gone, his body will be young and strong again and he'll look around to find himself on a bridge surrounded by woods. Baby will be there, and he'll smile but not get into his beloved car, because the picture isn't complete yet. Instead he'll step up to the bridge's railing, lean against it and watch the water flow steadily beneath his feet while he waits. 

But he won't wait for long, he knew he wouldn't. And when he's done waiting, he won't even have to turn around to know. It will suddenly be there behind him, the presence of a being he would recognize among millions. He'll close his eyes in anticipation, sure what's to come next. And there it is. 

"Hello, Dean."

And Dean will smile.