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The thing is: Cas is a good guy. Dean’ll go to bat for him anytime, anywhere. He’d give him the shirt off his back — has done, more than once. Cas is the closest thing Dean’s got to family outside of Sam.

‘S just. Dean ain’t in love with the guy.

But hell, what’s— what’s the difference, anyhow? What’s the difference between Dean slinging an arm over Cas’s shoulder and Dean kissing his cheek? Not like he can’t defend himself, if anyone wanted to pick a fight over it. Shit, not like Cas couldn’t defend himself.

Cas walks in, opens the fridge door. Leans over and peers into it like it’ll have something different in it from the last three times he looked. Dean’s heart thumps. Cas is human now, and he’s— he’s in a sweater and shorts, those jersey shorts that come up just above the knee, and he’s squinting at the fridge like he’s looking for God.

“Not gonna be anything new in there—” Dean says, and then cuts himself short before he can say buddy. Cas doesn’t deserve that. Doesn’t need Dean rubbing it in, that Cas is— that Cas feels— and that Dean isn’t—

Cas eyes him over the fridge door. Drily, he says, “I’m deciding.”

“Well, decide before you spoil the milk,” Dean grumbles, feeling heated as he makes his way out of the kitchen. The back of his neck prickles, and he thinks— he thinks, you fucking caveman. Here he is, mad over nothing, just ‘cause Cas is who he is. ‘Cause Cas likes men— unless it’s just Dean, in which case, nothing can help the poor bastard.

Cas catches him by the elbow before Dean can leave. “I found some basil growing in an abandoned lot a few miles down,” he says, handing Dean a bundle of leaves. “I assume someone must have planted it and— let it roam free, I suppose.”

“Uh.” Dean tries not to react like a man is giving him flowers. “I love basil.” He’s an idiot.

Cas smiles, though, a little pleased, quiet and content. “I know Sam wanted to preserve some fresh basil for his spellwork,” Cas says, and Dean thinks, oh, it’s for a fucking spell, dumbass, but then Cas adds, “and I know you wanted to make a pizza tonight, too. So.”

Dean’s mouth goes dry. He says, quiet, “Thanks, Cas.” He puts the basil in a jar of water — he did just accept flowers from a man, Jesus fucking Christ — and lets Cas open and close the fridge door at will, while Dean goes to bang his head against the wall in the comfort of his own bedroom.

He passes by Sam on the way. Sam says, “Hey, did I hear Cas say he got basil—”

“No,” Dean says, speeding by. And then he stops, and says, “Yes,” because he knows Sam gets in his head about what he hears and doesn’t hear and what’s real and what isn’t, and then he grunts, “Shut up,” just to round out the pack. Yeah. Dean Winchester: catch of the fucking century.

That night, after dinner, Sam ditches them to go on a nighttime run to clear his head or whatever the fuck. Dean, because he is not a self-punishing six foot bucket of trauma, makes Cas watch Thelma and Louise with him and keeps a careful and exact eight inches of distance between them at all times.

Perfectly goddamn normal.

“Oh,” Cas says, at the end. At the part where they kiss. Where Thelma and Louise kiss and drive a car off a cliff. He turns to Dean. He says, “You compared us to them, once.”

Dean realizes that. He is— he’s realizing that. “Yep,” he croaks out, and then asks, palms sweating, “Didn’t you already know that? You got that— the upload or whatever, from Megadouche.”

Cas shrugs, shoulders shifting under Dean’s hand-me-down sweatshirt, tight across his chest. His eyes are very — attractive, in the light of the TV screen. In the sense that, if you were a person who was attracted to former-angels in male vessels, for example, you might think they were… striking. “I can’t possibly remember every plot point in every film, TV show, book, and other form of humanity’s cultural productions, Dean, not anymore. The human mind is limited.”

“Yeah, okay, fair enough,” Dean says. “So. Uh.”

Cas huffs out a breath. Dean — sometimes he finds himself still on the wrong foot when it comes to what’s normal for people, sometimes blames it on the fact that he’s only just getting to the same number of years up here as he spent in the pit — but he thinks, if he isn’t reading it wrong, that it’s not a happy laugh. It’s the tilt of Cas’s mouth, the set of those eyes. Something is wrong. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it,” Cas says, quietly. “I’ll— good night, Dean.”

“Wait a sec,” Dean says, because he can’t— because Cas is here, alive, after all those chances, and Dean’s. Dean’s just a man. It’s nuts. Dean’s just some fucking guy, and Cas — eons, eons and eons of existence he has under his belt — Cas is in love with him and Dean just keeps.

Dean just keeps breaking his heart.

Cas looks at him. Sometimes Dean thinks he’s the biggest fucking asshole in the world, to have missed it, when Cas has looked at him that way for years, but then he thinks, how could he have known? How could he have possibly thought that Cas — who still looks like an angel everywhere he goes, who has that magnetic quality to him, that unnameable beauty that tugs at Dean every time he’s in the presence of an angel but just feels calmer, more comfortable, easier, realer with Cas — how could he have dared to think that Cas could be in love with him? The hubris of it, the obscenity of it.

But he is. Cas said the things he said, and Dean knows when he’s been given a true chance, a real chance. A chance to do things right. And whatever else he is, Dean’s not ungrateful.

“C’mere,” he says, settling into his decision. It’s right. And Cas wouldn’t — he sees it, on Cas’s face, the worry — Cas wouldn’t want it if Dean didn’t want it, so that just means Dean has to do a good job convincing him. It could be good for them both. And hell, like he figured earlier, what’s even— what’s even the fucking difference, anyway. Not like Dean’s precious about his body. And Cas is hot, yeah, Dean has eyes.

Cas shifts closer; breaks the eight-inch barrier, his thigh warm against Dean’s. He looks at him. “What do you want, Dean?”

He thinks about it. Thinks of Cas, dead— it’s unbelievable, the number of times he’s had to lose him, and every time it ruins him. If Cas left— and what would keep him here, why the hell would he want to stay if Dean just kept— if Dean just dangled it in front of him. What he wanted but could never have.  “I want you,” he breathes, and it doesn’t feel like a lie. He puts his hand on Cas’s shoulder and it’s not enough, it isn’t. He brings both hands up, palms on either side of Cas’s neck, fingers brushing his ears. “I’m—”

“I don’t— I’m sorry, Dean,” Cas says, pulling away, standing up, and Dean swallows. There’s a ringing in his ears. He fucked it up. He fucked it up. Muffled, he hears Cas saying, “It— I don’t want—”

“S’all right,” Dean says, looking at the back of the couch where Cas was sitting. “I shouldn’t have—”


“Shouldn’t’ve assumed,” Dean croaks out, feeling stupid. Idiot. To think that an angel would want the same way a human wants, like an animal. Dean remembers the way Uriel used to talk about them. Monkeys throwing shit at a wall to see if it sticks. To think that Cas would— and with Dean, of all people, rode hard and put away wet more often than he can count. He’s a fucking moron.

“Dean.” Cas heaves out a sigh. His hand touches Dean’s cheek and Dean blinks up at him, feeling hot all over, hot especially where Cas’s palm is warming him. “I’m— you must know that I want you, deeply.”

Dean swallows. That doesn’t sound right. That doesn’t make any sense at all. He’s here. Cas could just— if he really wanted him, Cas could just have him.

Cas pulls his hand away, and Dean can’t stop himself from leaning forward, just an inch, trying to chase after that warmth. “You’re not where I am,” Cas murmurs. “You’re not in love with me. And that’s all right, Dean. I don’t want you to change who you are. I simply—” His voice catches. Dean did that to him. “I only want this if it means the same thing to both of us.”

“But—” He can’t stop himself. He’s the worst man in the world. “‘Course I love you, Cas.”

Cas stills. Dean watches his hand flex. Cas says, “You— you’ve never said.”

“Oh.” That’s all Dean can think to say. Oh. Because — he could trace it all the way back to the start, could say I’ve never told anyone other than my mom that I love them.

But the truth of it is that it’s a lie. It’s a bald-faced lie, it’s Dean trying so fucking hard to keep Cas here that he’ll lie to his face about this, the most important thing in Cas’s life. It’s— it’s disgusting. Dean says, mouth dry, hating himself, “Cas, if you— if you want me— I’m yours.”

“Dean.” Dean looks up at Cas again, and Cas grins at him. God. He fucked up. He fucked up. “You can’t— you can’t imagine how happy that makes me feel.”

“Probably as happy as it makes me,” Dean says, trying on a smile in return. It’s fine. He— he does love Cas, in his way, and it’s not— and if Dean just does it, if he dates — because that must be what this is, dating, if they love each other and kiss each other and have sex with each other — if Dean dates Cas, and tells other people that they’re in love with each other, then what does it matter whether it’s true or not? Not like Dean’s built for love anyway. Maybe this is the closest anyone’s ever gonna get out of him.

Cas leans down, and Dean tilts his head back, and then they’re off. Kissing. Cas’s mouth on his and the act of kissing, at least, is familiar enough. Dean’s brain shuts off, abruptly, lost in Cas’s mouth on his, his fingertips gentle pressure against Dean’s jaw. It— it even feels good, even if this is the first man Dean’s ever— and what is Cas, anyway, if he was an angel first? So it doesn’t matter. Cas’s thumb scrapes along Dean’s stubble and Dean shivers, pulls him down onto his lap with his hands on the back of Cas’s knees. “Yeah, sweetheart,” he mumbles semi-consciously, bringing his hands up to his thighs, his hips. His waist.

“Dean,” Cas breathes. Dean touches him, feels the weight of him, slides his hands up to his chest — Jesus, he got big. Cas leans in for a kiss and Dean gives it to him, sets his hands clenching and twitching on Cas’s wide and unconquerable shoulders. He can’t think on it too long but that’s okay because there’s nothing to think about, other than Cas’s hips over his, his rough thumb rolling against Dean’s cheekbones.

He closes his eyes and it’s just the two of them, his body sinking into the couch under Cas’s weight. Fuck. Cas’s mouth is gentle on his, and he wants to just kiss and kiss, forget about all the rest of it. Dean grips him tight, pulls him in closer, gasps into his mouth when he feels Cas’s dick against his and, yeah, Dean’s getting hard too. “S’good,” Dean murmurs, feeling half-drunk already, somehow.

“Good,” Cas breathes, and his nails scratch just behind Dean’s ear and shit, it just— Dean’s hips jerk and he grunts, dick twitching in his jeans. Jesus Christ.

Dean opens his mouth and there they go, kissing open-mouthed on the couch like a couple of teenagers, and Dean can hear Cas’s hand clench in the couch behind him as he moans, stifled, just once, just quietly, in the back of his throat. Fuck. Fuck. “C’mere,” Dean mumbles, trying to pull Cas closer, somehow, thinking if I could make you part of me you wouldn’t go anywhere and he turns away from that thought by biting gentle-soft on Cas’s jawline as Cas breathes against his cheek.

He puts his hand on the back of Cas’s head, pulls him in with his other hand by the small of his back, feels absolutely covered, perfect. “Yeah,” he chokes out, as Cas scrapes his teeth against the skin under his ear, “oh— fuck, Cas—”

“You’re— stunning,” Cas murmurs, voice catching in the middle of it, as he pushes the flannel off Dean’s shoulders. “Let me—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says, and then as Cas pulls back to let him take his overshirt off, he asks, “You wanna— you wanna go to my room?”

It’s a dangerous moment. The longer Dean spends without Cas’s mouth on his the more he starts to think this is a fucking terrible idea. As he tosses his flannel over the back of the couch he thinks, he’s no good for anything but this, and they both know it—

But then Cas kisses him again and Dean forgets all about it. It’s just Cas. Cas pulls him up by his shoulder the way he must’ve done all those years ago when he burned a handprint into Dean’s skin, and Dean maybe keeps kissing him longer than he should as they make their way to Dean’s room, pushing him into walls and letting Cas run his hand up the skin under Dean’s T-shirt.

Finally, they make it to Dean’s room, tumbling through the door like it’s the end of the world. Dean can’t fucking— he can’t get enough of it, Cas’s hands hot on his belly, his side, sliding around until they hit Dean’s lower back and pull him in like a romance heroine.

“What d’you wanna do,” Dean breathes, hand on Cas through his sweatshirt, thumb tugging down at the neckline. He wants it off. He wants to put his mouth on Cas, wants to taste him, wants to see Cas smile. “Hey. Cas.”

“Anything,” Cas says, and he raises his arms to let Dean pull his shirt off, and he— he isn’t wearing anything under it so it’s just him, his skin, the hair over his chest. Shit. Shit. Cas says, “I don’t— Dean, I don’t really know what— I mean, I want it all.”

“Okay,” Dean says, still kind of stuck on the fact that Cas is shirtless in front of him, looking at how fucking big he is— like when did he get pecs. Dean slides his hands all over him, close, close, puts his mouth on Cas’s collarbone ‘cause he can’t stop himself. “Lemme— lemme.” Dean puts his hand on Cas’s ass, biting short and shallow against the pulse in his throat, and uses his grip to lever Cas towards the bed.

Cas goes, easy for him, and Dean looks at him sprawled there, with his thin sweatpants and his bare toes. Fuck. He goes to his knees ‘cause— ‘cause— ‘cause what else is there to do, when you have someone lookin’ at you like that. “Cas,” Dean whispers, puts his hands on Cas’s knees.

“Dean,” Cas rumbles, like a shot of the good stuff straight to the stomach, fuck, Dean feels it curling in his belly how good it feels when Cas says his name.

“Uh huh.” Dean noses up to his bare stomach, presses a kiss there, lets Cas take his hand. Their fingers are tangled, now, and that’s. “Lemme take care of you, huh? Lemme just—” and he releases Cas’s hand to pull his pants down, pull his boxers down, too. He’s never been good at talking in the moment, so he just— he kisses the inside of Cas’s thigh and revels in the jerk of his muscles, the look of Cas’s hands clenched in the sheets. “Good?”

“Yeah— yes, yes,” Cas says, and Dean puts his mouth on his dick and Cas sighs, extravagantly, looking down at him. “Dean.”

Dean moans around the dick in his mouth, looks up at Cas and his eyes get— stuck there. He just keeps looking, with his mouth open and full and Cas’s hips hot and trembling under his palms, fuck. He— he swallows— and Cas gasps, hitching forward a sec before pulling himself back. “Dean.”

He closes his eyes, gets into it, the taste of him, heavy on his tongue. He’s never felt like this, so— so overwhelmed, so full up with no contact except Cas inside his mouth, all sweat and smell of him, it’s fucking filthy is what it is, and Dean inhales through his nose and tries to take him deeper. Fuck. Fuck. Get in me, he thinks, and doesn’t know what to do with that.

Finally, Cas pushes him off to get his pants off and pulls Dean up to the bed, pushes Dean’s jeans off, too, so he’s just there, in his goddamn boxers, looking at Cas naked on the bed. “You look good,” Dean says, and then crawls onto the bed so he doesn’t have to say anything else from any kind of distance. He kisses Cas’s mouth, his chin, his chest, says, “You look— you look—”

“You’re so beautiful,” Cas murmurs, and tilts him on his back, until Cas is there on his side next to him, still hard against Dean’s hip. He kisses Dean’s neck and Dean shudders, feels the rasp of it under his jawline. “That was so beautiful, your mouth on me. I want to make you feel that good.”

“You— you—” Dean chokes in a breath as Cas’s hand slides down his chest, his stomach, takes hold of his dick. Fuck. Even the pillow feels unbearably good against his skin, the slide of his hair against the back of his neck, Cas’s warmth— Cas’s hand tight around him, and Dean’s— wet, God that’s so fucking embarrassing, but Cas seems to like it, Cas presses open-mouthed kisses to the base of Dean’s neck and thumbs across the wet head of his dick. “Shit, Cas— Cas—”

“I’d like,” and Cas moves to put two fingers, gentle-like, against Dean’s hole. “Is this?”

Dean blinks his eyes open. Cas, a vision, hair a mess and sweat all over him and straddling Dean’s thighs. Cas’s chest moves with his breath and Dean can’t stop. He can’t stop looking at him but he can only take him in pieces, Cas’s shoulders against the light, Cas’s thighs heavy on him, his dick— his dick pressing against Dean’s skin, oh God. “Yeah,” Dean says, and Cas puts two fingers in Dean’s mouth and Dean’s eyes flutter shut as he sucks, gets ‘em wet, and he can’t— Cas strokes him fast and he can’t, he can’t, he groans around Cas’s fingers ‘cause he wants to be full, he wants it all.

Cas’s fingertip taps against his lip and Dean opens his eyes. “Do you want lube?”

Dean chokes. “N— s’all right,” and it ain’t even a lie, he can see the line of split trailing from Cas’s index finger and anyway, lube makes it— real, and this is just. This is just.

Cas presses a finger into him and Dean gasps. It’s everything. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

“Oh, look at you,” Cas says gently, rocking his finger in two knuckles deep as he slides the heel of his palm against Dean’s dick, and Dean can’t even imagine what the hell he looks like, head thrown back and hands clenched in the sheets like a pin-up. “Does it feel good?”

“Y—yeah,” Dean rasps, the— the sensation of it, Cas stretching out his rim as he, as he. It’s so big, the feeling in him. He can feel tears starting up and this is the worst possible fucking time, so he throws a forearm over his eyes, rides Cas’s hand. “Fuck, Cas, s—so— yeah, that’s good.”

“Two fingers?” Cas asks, and Dean nods, so Cas spits — oh fuck, he spits, Dean tenses a little just at the sound of it, knows he’s harder in Cas’s hand now — and then there are two fingertips pressing at his asshole, filling him.

Dean realizes he’s just making sounds now, little clenched gasps and the whole point of this was to— was to make Cas feel good, but he peeks out from under his arm and there Cas is, still hard as ever, biting his lip with concentration as he looks at Dean’s body. Cas’s eyes slide up to his face, and Dean. Dean blinks, and moves his arm out of the way, so Cas can look at him.

Suddenly, Cas hits— it’s a good spot, and Dean shivers, full-body, puts his hand on his own jaw ‘cause he needs to feel something else, and Cas says, “You are the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, in all my millennia of existence.”

“That— that can’t be—” Dean gasps as Cas strokes harder, faster. “Shit, Cas, shit— you’re fuckin’ with me—”

“Never,” Cas vows, and that’s.

Dean catches Cas’s eye on accident as his hand slips down to his own throat, just resting there, and Cas looks straight through him and presses up against his— his prostate, must be, and Dean comes, silent, feeling it through his toes and his spine and his mouth, all the good shivers at every nerve. “Ah,” he breathes, gasps, quiet-like, and then groans loud as his voice comes back. “Fuck. Fuck. Oh, God.”

Cas slips his fingers out without much to-do, and strokes Dean through it until Dean finally has to push his hand away. “Cas, holy shit,” he mutters, exhausted. His breath catches for a second as he feels it again, an aftershock through his chest. He can’t move his fucking hands.

Finally, his eyes focus enough to see Cas’s face, crinkly with a smile. “Good?”

Yes, good, goddamn,” Dean mutters, sliding a hand over his face and wincing at the wetness there. He full-on cried. Like a baby. “Ugh, embarrassing.”

“Not at all,” Cas says, wiping a tear away with his thumb. Dean looks up and then— they’re kissing again, Cas holding him there with his palm while Dean takes it and takes it.

“You, uh.” Dean looks down at Cas, still hard. It strikes a nervousness in him. “You wanna come?”

Cas shrugs. “I’d like to, but admittedly, it’s not— I’d rather watch you.”

“Well, uh.” Dean smiles, awkwardly, suddenly cold without Cas’s body moving over his. “I mean, I’d— I wanna see you— I wanna make you come, if you.”

“Won’t take much,” Cas admits, lowly, sliding back over him until Dean’s not so anxious anymore, just feeling Cas’s weight and his heat. He rocks up against Dean’s belly and Dean puts a hand on his shoulder and another hand on his dick, stroking gently and keeping his eyes on Cas’s forehead furrowing as his head tilts down. “You looked so— so good.”

“Yeah?” Dean tries to make it good, slides a hand down from his shoulder to squeeze his hip, pull him in by the ass to get a rhythm going, strokes him faster. “You look good, too, baby.”

Cas hitches a smile, a little scrap of a laugh, and looks at him. “I— when you let me— my fingers— thank you, Dean,” he says fervently, and then leans down to kiss him. Dean kisses him back, open for him, open for anything, and Cas moans into his mouth as he comes all over Dean’s stomach, as Dean splays his hand up across his back to hold him there, close and tight and touching.

Cas breathes once, twice, on him, and then rolls to the side again. Stays touching, though, which is about the only thing keeping Dean together. “That was nice,” Cas says gently, and Dean laughs.

“Shit. Understatement, buddy,” he snorts, and Cas smiles, too. Dean realizes he should get outta the habit of saying buddy. Start saying— baby, he said earlier, although that’s maybe more generally for his car. He could say babe.

Before he gets too in his head over it, though, Cas rolls over to smother him, full octopus mode. “I love you,” Cas murmurs.

Dean holds his breath for a moment. And then, exhaling, he says, “You… you too.”

Cas drops off pretty soon after that — this is probably the most strenuous thing he’s done since turning human, Dean’ll bet — so Dean’s the one to roll out of bed twenty minutes later to get something to clean them up with. He wipes down his own stomach brusquely with an old pair of boxers, and then gently wipes Cas’s hands clean, the insides of his thighs, too.

He drops the boxers off the side of the bed and sits there, looking at Cas in his bed.

There he is. At least Dean knows, for tonight, that Cas isn’t going anywhere — not tuckered out like this, hair all over the place, snoring with his mouth wide open like a goddamn grandpa. Dean looks at his nose — sharp, strong. His cheekbone. Dean kissed that cheek — and the other one, too. His jaw, his chin, his forehead, his eyelids and his mouth — Dean kissed all those, tasted Cas like he had the right. He bites his lower lip, feels the memory of Cas’s skin under his teeth, against his tongue, the way Cas had breathed out Dean—

Cas shifts, turns towards Dean in his sleep. A smile twitches at the corner of his mouth. He looks happy.

I’ll be so good to you, Dean thinks. I’ll kiss you every day of my godforsaken life. I’ll hold your hand when you buy your overpriced honey at the farmer’s market and I’ll back your play when you threaten Sergei with unreasonable violence. I'll scrape my hand open for any spell. You could bleed me dry.

There isn’t anything real inside of Dean, not anymore, but he’s good at putting on a show. He could make Cas so happy. He’d be so good at it. Isn’t that enough?

Dean really likes looking at Cas. Must just be the number of times he’s looked for the guy and been unable to find him, making him anxious over it. Every time he walks into a room he looks for Cas first and settles once he sees him there.

Today, Cas is driving them the first leg up to the Norfolk Walmart on the way to Sioux Falls. Dean watches his hands on Baby’s wheel, his jawline in the morning sunlight. He could look at him for days and never get his fill. That’s all he needs: just the people he loves, happy on the balance of things. Not much else to ask for.

“Exit here,” Dean says, three hours in. Cas exits smoothly, picture perfect driving, and Dean swallows. Hand over hand on the wheel, Jesus Christ—

“You guys are gross,” Sam says delightedly from the back seat. Dean goes cold. Sam doesn’t mean it in a bad way — hell, from the look on his face this is about the happiest he’s ever been about someone Dean’s, y’know — it’s just.

It was fine, before. He was just looking. It didn’t have to mean anything.

“Can you head in first, Sam?” Cas asks as he pulls into the parking lot. “I have to ask Dean something.”

“If you fuck in the car I’m hotwiring up to Jody’s,” Sam says, a little less delightedly, but he leaves them alone easy enough once Cas turns off the car.

Dean lets Sam go, ‘cause hell if he’s touching that one with a ten foot pole. He exhales. “Somethin’ wrong, Cas?”

“No, no. I only—” Cas turns to look at him. “Are you uncomfortable with other people knowing about us? We could— we don’t have to tell Jody and the girls.”

It could… it could be easier. The fallout wouldn’t be as bad once Dean inevitably fucks it up, but Cas looks so dejected by the idea that Dean can’t do it. “Nah, s’fine, Cas.”

Cas takes his hand. “You know no one would ever judge you for— for who you love.”

“Not when I’m pulling a literal angel who’s miles outta my league,” Dean says, because he can’t think of anything else. The problem isn’t the queer thing, or at least, Dean doesn’t think so. The problem is that the whole thing is a fucking charade that Dean— that Dean’s holding because he— or it isn’t, maybe he is in love with the guy, maybe this is just what it feels like. Maybe Dean just isn’t built to feel it right, because right now, it feels like he’s faking it.

“It means a lot to me, that you’d be with me like this,” Cas says, and Dean thinks, there you go. It means a lot to him. You did it right for once.

“Yeah,” Dean says, and he rubs a hand on Cas’s shoulder. “Yeah, me too.”

Once they get the backyard propane tank all set up, Jody puts a beer in his hand and lets him go to town and he makes ten burgers on autopilot without even questioning it, like a suburban dad robot. Embarrassing.

“You gotta be good to him,” Claire says offhandedly, while Dean’s still trapped at the grill, ‘cause no way is ten enough to satisfy the hungry kids milling around.

Dean clenches his fist and almost sends one of the patties careening through a gap in the grill. “Uh. Huh?”

Claire leans against the table, watching all the people behind Dean’s back. “Castiel. He’s kind of a dumbass, y’know. He won’t figure it out if you don’t treat him right.” She glances back to him. “But I will.”

“I— jeez, all right,” Dean mutters, flipping his burgers. He clears his throat. “I mean. Yeah, that’s— I will.”

Claire nods. She takes a pull of her beer and she’s twenty-four now, and by that age Dean had already grown out of putting back tequila shots like water, but he still looks away from it.

And then she says, “He’s really in love with you.”

Dean nods jerkily. “Yeah. Yeah. He— uh. He said.” Before he died. He looked at Dean and he said I love you and then he kicked the bucket, in a big fucking way, and left Dean— left Dean—

But he’s said it since. Dean shouldn’t remember that as the big one, just because it was the first time. The first time he meant it that way, even, since he said it before, said I love you when he was almost dying for Dean yet another time, that black poison spreading across his stomach—

“You doin’ all right there?” Claire eyes him. Dean looks at the tongs in his hand. He’s gripping ‘em like they’re his last lifeline and he’s scaling the Empire State.

Dean exhales. He relaxes his grip on the tongs. “Fine,” he says, and flips another patty.

“Are you in love with him?”

“Jesus fuck,” Dean swears, and does jerk hard enough to send one of the patties, finally, down into the grill where the propane burns through it slow and steady like hellfire. Great. Great. Just fucking great, Dean’s a goddamn beef patty in his fucked up BBQ metaphor mind palace.

Claire snorts. “So. Yes?”

“I can’t—” Dean inhales sharply, and exhales. He is having a nice day. He’s making hamburgers for his family. Him and Cas split the driving, and Cas even took the suburban sprawl traffic for their Walmart beer run and left Dean the nice leg up through Nebraska where it’s easy and fast and uncomplicated, and Claire thinks he’s in love with Cas so she might as well be right. “Yeah,” he says, and it clenches in his throat, and he suddenly has to look around to see if Cas will watch him struggling to say it. If Cas will see how hard it is, if he’ll realize well damn, he really isn’t worth the effort and head on out anyway, leaving Dean here flipping more patties for no one to eat.

“Well, shit, don’t look too happy about it,” she says, and looks back out over Jody’s backyard, and settles. Dean knows she’s looking at Kaia, ‘cause nothing else makes her settle the way that girl does.

Dean puts one of the survivor patties into a bun on her plate, but she doesn’t leave him to add fixings. She just says, “Hey. It’s hard to— y’know, let yourself have what you want. I get it. But you can have it.”

If I tell him what I want he’ll leave me. The thought comes sudden, straight into his brain like a message from God and Dean has had enough of those to last him ten lifetimes. “I know,” he says absently, mouth dry, thinking, why the hell did I think that? I don’t want anything. I’m still empty. Famine gave me his wake-up call but ten years later I’m still empty.

He blinks out of it and motions at Claire with the tongs. “Go on, eat.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Claire pulls another swig of her beer and says, “I’m serious. Unclench a little, dude.”

“I’m unclenched!” Dean powers back some of his own beer and grins at her. “See? Picture of relaxation.”

“Whatever. I’m happy for you assholes, anyway.” She punches him in the shoulder — hard, Jesus, someone oughtta put a leash on that kid — and heads down the table to put way too much fucking mustard on her burger.

Dean exhales. Goddamn children.

“Did she give you the ‘you’re allowed to have what you want’ talk?” Cas asks. Dean turns around, and there Cas is, smiling bright in the sun. Like he’s the only person in the whole fucking backyard.

“You’d think she’d realize we’re supposed to be the ones giving her advice,” Dean says, relaxing unaccountably in Cas’s presence. And then tensing, because he— he shouldn’t get to have this. Cas, looking at him like that, easy and generous, and Dean’s own hoarding, his own restlessness vying with his greed. He just wants Cas to look at him, and to stay.

Cas moseys on over and takes a patty only three-quarters to being done off the grill.

“No,” Dean says. And then, ‘cause it’s on his mind, “That’s— you’re givin’ me Famine flashbacks, man.”

“It’s cooked!” Cas eyes him from where he’s hunched over, burger already halfway to his mouth.

“If you die of mad cow disease I’m calling it now,” Dean mutters, turning back to the grill. Sam will be over here any second now with a begrudging bun on his plate, and Dean’ll have to have a burger ready for him. And then the kids’ll be back for seconds, and then Jody might want another one too.

Cas chews contemplatively. And then he asks, “Is it stressful? Having everybody know?”

The back of Dean’s neck prickles. It’s impossible to figure out what’ll set him off like this and what’s safe enough. Two nights ago Cas had brought him a jar of honey from the Lebanon farmer’s market (that he walked to, because Cas lives to give Dean heart palpitations) and it’d just made Dean smile. Now, though, he’s— and maybe it is the visibility, or maybe it’s the illusion of permanence. When’s the last time Dean got to keep something so good?

“Dunno,” Dean says, even though he knows. He knows it’s that he took on a commitment too big. It’s that he told Cas he loved him, and told Cas he could do this — could get cuddly at the family barbecue and flirty at the Lebanon bookstore and in love, loving, at home and in the car and anywhere else too — but he can’t. He isn’t built for it. He’s got no clue what’s real and what’s an act and what he’s doing just to keep Cas around and what he’s doing just for fun and none of it is what Cas deserves, not really.

Cas nods. “I don’t intend on making things more difficult for you, Dean,” he says.

“Ha.” Dean powers back another gulp of his beer. “You been a pain in my ass since the day we met, sunshine.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Cas smiles at his plate, carefully avoiding Dean’s eyes. Crap. “Still. I don’t— I don’t expect things to change. I don’t expect you to— to tell everyone we meet.”

“Yeah, but I—” Dean flicks the grill off and steps closer to Cas. What’s the sensation of a trap, paranoia, the prickling fear at the edge of his mind, in comparison to this? To Cas’s eyes lit up, his smile, his hand warm on Dean’s? “I’d want family to know.”

Cas smiles, small and quiet, and Dean looks at him. Yeah, most days the whole in-love thing kicks him in the nads, but sometimes — like right now, with the sun shining bright on Cas’s sunburnt forehead — he ain’t stupid enough to forget the real miracle, which is: Cas, alive. Oh, Jesus. Cas asks, “Are you happy, Dean?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, crowding in, kissing his cheek, just ‘cause he can, just ‘cause Cas is there to feel it. “Shit, Cas. Yeah. I am.”

Cas doesn’t push it, just leans back against the table as Dean gives him the last burger on the grill — food-safe, this time, none of that half-raw shit Cas likes — and turns down the barbecue so he can look back out at the rest of them, too, the girls pulling sangria out of coolers and getting Sam wine-drunk and giggly.

Cas doesn’t touch him, and he doesn’t touch Cas. He doesn’t even look at him. But Dean’s warm, and almost happy, and well-fed, and grateful. On a scale of days bad to good, this one scores high.

A few months ago — well, twelve weeks and two days ago, to put it plain — they got Cas outta the Empty.

Dean doesn’t remember much of the lead-up. Honestly, he doesn’t remember most of the months between Cas going to the Empty and Cas coming back. From what Sam says, that’s probably for the best.

Dean remembers they drove to the barn where Cas first touched down in Jimmy’s vessel, ‘cause Sam said something about a site of close connection even though he couldn’t— he couldn’t have known what Cas said, Dean hadn’t said a word. But they went to the barn.

And Dean remembers Sam giving him something to drink, something out of Rowena’s books, and he remembers them cutting up— he remembers that he’d had to make Sam cut up the jacket he wore the night Cas went, the one with Cas’s handprint on it, ‘cause he couldn’t do it, not even to get a scrap of fabric with Cas’s blood on it for the spell. He’d had to look away. And Dean had drank whatever it was, and it’d hurt so bad, and he remembers Sam’s face terrified over his as he’d collapsed—

All he remembers after that is Cas and Sam looking down at him and Dean blinking up, like he’d just come back from the dead— ’cause he had. And he’d stood up and looked at Cas, and his face was so— so careful. So unassuming. Cas didn’t expect a damn thing.

Despite the fact that he’d been dead and back again less than half an hour before, Dean had drove them back to the bunker ‘cause he wanted to feel alive, and Sam hadn’t objected, probably ‘cause they were both feeling a little keyed up, a little like taking life for granted.

“Where are we going?” Cas had asked from the backseat about an hour into the drive, and Dean’d almost driven them off the road. He’d been looking at Cas in the rearview the whole damn time but his voice still took him by surprise.

Sam had said something about the bunker, and Dean’d had no idea how to interpret the look on Cas’s face at that, so he’d tried, stumbling all over himself, “Just for— I mean— if you wanna go someplace else, Cas, you just, we can go anywhere you want— or, I mean—”

“Should I find someplace else?” Cas had asked.

Christ. Christ. “No,” Dean had said on instinct. And then he’d walked it back, said, “I mean, you can. You can go anywhere you want. But, uh, the bunker is.” Dean remembers that the road had been so dark, and he recalls the unadulterated panic in his chest at the thought of Cas leaving, so soon after they’d got him back. “S’your home, if you want it. It’s.” It’s where I am. “It’s your home.”

He’d flicked a look up to the mirror again after that. Cas had been looking out the window, a frown on his face even as he was nodding, and Dean remembers thinking: He’s gonna go. Look at him. This isn’t what he wants. He told you what he wants— and this isn’t it.

By his fourth month back, Cas just moves into Dean’s room, pretty much. Dean walks into his room and there he is, lounging in his bare feet on the bed, book in hand, listening to Carly Rae Jepsen on Dean’s speakers.

“Cas,” he grunts, flopping onto the bed next to him, face-down.

It isn’t a good day.

Dean closes his eyes, buries his face in the pillow next to Cas’s hip. That morning, Sam hadn’t said a word all through breakfast. Just ate his food, shoveling eggs in him like he’d been programmed to do it, hot coffee down the hatch without a thought to the temperature. He’d flinched when Dean walked in. Flinched again when Dean sat down.

Hey, Dean remembers saying, quiet as he could, and Sam had twitched, one of those awful little twitches that Dean remembers from when Lucifer was riding shotgun. Sam. You with me?

Forgot, Sam had whispered. He’d been so quiet. He’s always so quiet. Dad died today.

Dean’s got no clue how he got to his room after that. He knows he made Sam promise to get outside today, see some sky, talk to someone, and then slouched his way back to Bethlehem in a daze. He wishes he could suffocate himself. He’d forgotten too.

Cas sighs. He turns off the music. “You all right?”

“Mm.” Dean brings his hands up to the pillow, slides ‘em under and tilts his head to the side, facing Cas’s hips under those soft sweatpants. Dean would take his jeans off, just hang out in his boxers, except for Cas is right there, and that’s— he shouldn’t do that, right? He shouldn’t.

Cas’s hand brushes his hair softly. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” Dean croaks out as his eyes flutter shut. He doesn’t move a muscle, in case Cas gets it in his head to stop petting his hair.

But he doesn’t stop. Cas just keeps doing it, thumbs the scrape of hair along the sides of his head, runs his fingernails gentle across Dean’s scalp. Shit. Shit, fuck, it’s. “Feels nice,” Dean whispers, hands clenching under the pillow, out of sight, unused to being at ease.

Cas’s hand stays there, only leaving to turn a page every so often. God, he’s so— it’s so gentle, is what it is, like he’s— or intimate, really. Like Cas knows his body. Knows he has permission. And fuck, he does, he does.

“Dean?” Cas asks eventually. His hand slides down to the back of Dean’s neck, massaging gently. Dean groans into the pillow, half-asleep. “If you’d… if you’d like to talk about it, I’m here.”

“Wh’s there t’talk about,” Dean mumbles.

He blinks his eyes open, and Cas is there, looking down at him. His book is on his lap.

“Y’stopped reading.”

“I finished my book.”

“Oh.” Dean tries to push himself up, but Cas holds him down. “Cas—”

“You don’t have to go.” Cas leans over him to put the book on his side table — hot, over him, his body like a curtain over Dean’s, and he’s— his hand through it all perfectly weighted on Dean’s neck, perfectly in control, like he doesn’t even need to think about it. Dean inhales sharp as Cas pulls back and then slides down the bed to rest his head on the pillow next to Dean.

His puts a hand back on Dean’s neck. He’s— he’s close.

Dean shutters his eyes down to Cas’s chest, away from his face. “Y’know what today is,” he says — asks — not sure, even, whether Cas would’ve figured it out, whether Cas has ever actually been around on the day of. Maybe he hasn’t.

“Yes,” Cas murmurs, and right. Ex-angel. That settles that.

“Wish I didn’t have to be grateful for it,” he whispers, and then shuts his fucked up mouth. Jesus Christ.

“Dean,” Cas says, pulling him in, and Dean — Dean goes, right down with his head in Cas’s chest and then it’s just awkward to put his hands anywhere other than around his stomach, and he might as well throw a leg over Cas’s too while he’s at it.

He feels the even rise and fall of Cas’s chest under his cheek, the warmth of him against Dean’s belly, his thighs. He closes his eyes because he can’t— today, of all days, for him to be—

“Your father was a complicated man,” Cas says, which frankly is pretty fuckin’ generous of him considering what Dean knows he thinks of the guy. And then he adds, quiet, “I’m sorry you lost him like that.”

Dean’s shoulders tense. He blinks, and his tears soak Cas’s T-shirt, and his arms tighten around Cas’s body, and Cas just takes it like it’s the thing he’s been waiting to do his entire life. Dean doesn’t know what to do with that but he just— fifteen years it’s been since Dad, and it still gets him, and the way he’d felt afterwards— the way he’d been, inside of him, in his body, the way he knew it was all wrong. Knew he was supposed to be dead.

“St—stupid,” Dean hitches out, eventually, once he gets a hold of his voice. “Been more’n a decade—”

“You’re allowed to grieve, Dean.” Cas slides a palm, firm, across Dean’s shoulders, cradles his head with his other arm, and Dean exhales shakily. “And perhaps… this is one of the few years you’ve been safe enough to truly feel it, without a more urgent crisis over you. It makes sense that you’d be more affected.”

“Sucks,” Dean grumbles, because Cas is always right. Asshole. He presses his mouth against the shirt under his face — not a kiss, not really, but it could be, if you wanted to read it that way. Dean just does it. Just instinct in him, close quarters, and Cas’s smell, the warmth of him in his room.

Quietly, Dean says, “Thanks.”

Cas presses a kiss to the top of Dean’s head. That — that’s undeniable. Dean’s choosing not to think about it. “Thanks for letting me help,” Cas replies.

Dean closes his eyes, and tells himself it’s okay if he holds on just a little longer.

Pretty much the only thing about the whole Cas situation that doesn’t lead to a dumpster fire in Dean’s brain is the sex, which is the last thing Dean expected. Dean, it turns out, is bisexual. Which he probably shoulda figured out and gotten okay with before going and committing to fucking a man for the rest of his godforsaken life, but that woulda taken five billion years and he’s only got the next few decades with Cas, so. Time to speedrun it.

Here’s the scene: Dean, on his laptop in the library at three in the morning, biting his fingernail as he browses through, of all things, r/sexuality. It isn’t that helpful but he has no idea where else to go. He found a website called KU Queers & Allies but he barely graduated high school, so it’s not like he has much in common with twenty year old frat bros.

He thinks about texting Claire for help, and doesn’t do it ‘cause he’s not an asshole and twenty-four year olds shouldn’t have to gay Yoda for the forty-two year old men who get their dads killed. And anyway, it isn’t really— after all the things he’s seen, it shouldn’t be a big deal. After the number of times he found himself waking up in a bed with three other men during that summer with Crowley, and the way Benny had touched him, early in those Purgatory days— he shoulda known, man. It’s fucking obvious, now that he looks back on it, but somehow there was always a reason for it. And now that he’s thinkin’ on it he remembers Arizona, with Lee, when he’d held up that beer into the light at that bar and Dean had leaned back over that riding bull and felt the stretch of his jeans over his thighs and the warmth, just from Lee lookin’ at him.

And. Two hours ago. Cas’s mouth against his upper back, hands all over his chest, God, that’d been good. Cas breathing, you’re beautiful into Dean’s ear, jacking him so— so soft, and careful. If he weren’t in his forties and more fucked up in his body than not he’d definitely have another hard on, so small mercies. Still, the back of his neck is warm as he thinks about it. Thinks of Cas thrusting so gentle, right at the small of his back, against his ass, and—

Dean scrolls down, tries to focus on anything else. He should be back in bed with him, instead of here, browsing through the gay panic section of the internet and curling his toes in his socks from the sense memory of Cas’s body covering his.

Some kid made a post wondering if his dad will kick him outta the house for bringing a boyfriend home and Dean has to— he closes the tab. He can’t read that shit. He closes his laptop and puts his head on his forearms, feeling like a real— a real fuckin’ piece of shit.

“Hey,” Dean mumbles when he hears Sam walk in, ‘cause he knows Sam’s presence like he knows his own name. Better, even. He looks up blearily. “What’re you doin’ up?”

“Could ask you the same,” Sam says, pulling out two beers from the fridge. “Want one?”

“Yeah, gimme.” Dean takes the beer out of Sam’s hand, unscrews it, and tosses back a couple gulps. “You doin’ okay? Nightmares?”

Sam shrugs, sitting down on the table next to Dean. “A few. Nothin’ too bad, just figured it’d be easier to stay up for a bit.”

“Fair ‘nough.” Dean picks at the label of his bottle while Sam sips carefully at his drink. “Eileen comin’ around anytime soon? Could make up a nice dinner or somethin’.” Just to be a dick, he grins. “No onions, I promise.”

“Fuck off,” Sam laughs, but he loses the frown, at least, so that’s mission accomplished. After a few minutes there, in silence together, Sam asks, “Shouldn’t you be with Cas right now?”

Ah. Right. Dean powers back more of his drink and looks at his laptop as if it’ll suddenly start reading out all his secrets. “Just, uh.”

Sam nods. He says, “Y’know, it’s. I mean. No judgment here, man. Sex is… complicated.”

“I guess. Yeah.” He’s never felt so good in his life, and what the hell does that say about him, that all it takes is Cas’s palm hot over his chest to make him feel lighter than anything. “I mean it’s. It’s good. It’s.” Dean laughs. “It’s too good. In what universe do I get to— and with Cas, man.”

Sam eyes him. “It’s way too late for me to unpack that, but dude. You deserve good things.”

“I dunno, Sammy, m’just— it’s stupid.”

“No, it’s not stupid, it’s just… it’s just a thing. A thing to work through. You think I don’t get that way sometimes, ‘bout Eileen?” Dean looks up at his brother, six foot four and hunched over for it, like he’s apologizing already for taking up too much space. “You ever think about therapy?”

“Nah,” Dean says. But he thinks about Cas asleep — God he hopes he’s still asleep — in their room, gorgeous and too good for Dean. Thinks about Cas’s fingers, Cas’s wide thighs, the stubble across his chin, and the fact that this is who Dean is now, a man who sleeps with men. Thinks about his dad’s silence when he had to pick him up after that cult thing with Lee, which never even went anywhere anyway. “But, uh. Hell. Maybe I should.”

“Could be nice,” Sam says gently. He polishes off his beer, and Dean realizes he’s done, too, barely even noticed it. He probably should see someone about the drinking problem, too, but one crisis at a time. “M’gonna watch something. You staying up?”

Dean thinks about Cas’s warmth in that bed. Against all instinct, he says, “No, I.” He should stay up. He should stay up and make sure Sam’s warm and fed and taken care of. But Sam doesn’t look mad at all, and so Dean says, “I think I’ll… go back to bed.”

Sam grins. “Yeah. Okay. G’night, man.” And he leaves him to it, and Dean shakes his head at himself, wondering if it really is that easy. He thinks about it all the way until he gets back to their room, and curls himself into Cas’s body, and drifts off again, thinking about nothing at all.

It takes him a few days to work up to it, but he finds Mia Vallens’ contact info online — she’s wearing the same face in her headshot, at least, which makes it easier. Dean flips his phone in his hands nervously and then mans up and dials the fucking number.

A nice secretary on the other end of the line takes his name, and he says, “I, uh, if it’s all right, I’d prefer to— I mean, I’m a friend of Mia’s.” That sounds presumptuous, but it’s hard to say I rescued her from her abusive shapeshifter boyfriend to someone’s front desk staff. “So if she’s takin’ direct calls, I’m—”

“I’ll… I’ll check her schedule,” the person says hesitantly, and then Dean waits through two minutes of pleasant but grief-appropriate hold music, and then Mia picks up.

“Dean Winchester,” she says. “I’m surprised to hear from you.”

“Yeah— yeah, hah,” he says. He looks at the storeroom around him — he didn’t wanna do this in his bedroom, in case Cas walked in on him, but now he kinda wishes he was anywhere more comfortable. He sits on the floor with his back to the wall. He picks at a thread coming loose off the knee of his jeans. “Just, uh. Wanted to make an appointment.”

Mia makes an agreeable noise. She says, “If you— if you’d like to talk now, I have forty-five minutes.”

“Oh.” Dean pauses. He wasn’t really— but then, how likely is it that he’ll actually follow through with an appointment two weeks from now? Maybe he should go for it. “Uh… how much do you charge?”

“Normally? Depends on the insurance coverage.”

“Ah.” Too rich for his blood, then. “Well, uh, sorry for wastin’ your time then, I—”

“Dean.” He hears her exhale. “You saved my life. I can give you a free therapy session.”

What a barter system. “Okay,” he says, thinking of the value of labor, thinking of all the girls he met when he was a teenager trying to fix him, all the women smoking outside his motel room doors who’d give him advice on how to stay clean, who wouldn’t let him have a smoke ‘cause he was only seventeen even when he was jonesin’ for something harder after the shit he’d seen. “Okay, yeah.”

“So.” He hears a pen click. Maybe she’s taking notes. “The way this usually works is, I like to ask a few questions, get to know you. But we’ve met already, and I get the sense that you might be calling about something in particular. Is that accurate?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah.”

He hears Mia’s breathing for a short moment. She asks, “Would you like to tell me about it?”

He thinks about the last time he saw Mia. His rage, how dangerous he was. The way Jack flinched away from him like it was instinct. “Last time,” he says carefully, “you saw me when I was in a. A bad place.”

“Yes, I remember,” Mia says gently. “You’d just lost your mother, right?”

“Yeah.” Dean blinks at the neatly-ordered boxes filled with cursed objects in front of him. A good place to air your secrets, in a warded room full of secret-keepers. “And. And a… a friend.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Dean. That’s a lot of loss to go through all at once.”

“Got ‘em both back,” Dean croaks out, “but my— my mom— she.” Jack killed her and I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it, and what I did after— it broke us. It broke our family. “She’s dead again. For real, this time.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss.” She even sounds like she means it, which is generous for a woman Dean once pulled a gun on. “Do you want to talk more about that?”

“No,” Dean says. That has nothing to do with hiding out from Cas in this room — or maybe it does, but he has under an hour, and he needs solutions, fast, ‘cause this can’t go on. “No, I. I wanted to talk about the friend.”

“Does your friend have a name?”

“Cas,” Dean says, mouth moving over it like it’s the first time he’s said it. He loves Cas’s name in his mouth. “He’s— he’s— he’s my best friend.”

“How did you and Cas meet?”

Ha. Oh, fuck. “Pulled me out of a—” and hell, he thinks, Mia knows who he is, what he does. And no one’s gonna tell. He admits, “He pulled me outta Hell.”

“Hell,” Mia repeats.

“Fire an’ brimstone, the whole nine yards,” Dean says casually, and then swallows and absolutely can’t make himself speak.

After a minute of silence, Mia says, “That sounds like a scary place to be, Dean. I’m glad you had someone to… to save you.”

“Me too,” Dean whispers. “He’s been doin’ it for… since all that time. Twelve years he’s been savin’ me.”

“It sounds like Cas cares about you very much.”

“Yeah,” Dean laughs, chokes, tilts his head back against the wall, closes his eyes ‘cause he can’t face it. He shouldn’t have done it here. It isn’t the dungeon but it looks— it looks too damn much like it. He shouldn’t have done this here. “Yeah, he sure does. Pretty sure that’s half my fuckin’ problem.”

“Why do you say that?”

“‘Cause he.”

And Dean thinks on it, wonders if he can get out of it, but it. He thinks it might do him some good, if he. If he says it. So for the first time in his life, he tells it in words, what happened there.

“He died.” Dean cuts himself off abruptly, and then breathes. In and out. Just say it, Winchester. “Again. A few months— six months back. He.”

Dean swallows. He can’t open his eyes or he’ll see it all over again. He rubs the heel of his palm into his eyelids just to make pinpricks of color come, to distract him from the hole in his chest. “It’s a long story but he. He had to— had to summon someone, to, to save me. Summoned this. Thing. And he had to have a— a moment of— of true happiness to call it to him. Is what he said.”

Oh, fuck. Mia stays silent. Dean inhales, and exhales, and he can hear it in his breath, the tears that’re coming. Dean knocks his head back against the wall and says, “He said he loved me. And that. That’s what.” Dean presses a hand over his mouth like that’ll keep the sob inside of him. And then he releases it once he has a handle on himself, an’ he breathes, “That’s what killed him.”

He breathes in through his nose, snot and tears, and he can’t— he can’t for the life of him say another word. He just sits there, on the ground, while Mia listens to him break down, and he— he—

Mia pulls it back, though. She says, “That’s an incredibly difficult situation to be in. But know that it isn’t your fault Cas loves you. He made that decision to save you.”

Dean chokes out, “Y—Yeah,” just so Mia can hear it ‘cause she can’t see the way he’s nodding, cracked open over it, hand over his face hiding him from the world.

Mia asks, “And Cas is… now he’s back?”

“We brought him back,” Dean croaks out. “I brought him back.”

“That’s wonderful,” Mia says, and she even sounds like she means it. “I’m so glad to hear that.”

“I know I’m lucky,” Dean says, ‘cause Mia sees people bowled over with grief like this every day. He doesn’t even have any real problems. “An’ I’m tryin’ to be grateful, what with— and with what he said, y’know, we’re. We’re.” He hasn’t even said it in so many words to anybody, just let them all figure it out from the way they act now around each other. “We’re together now.”

He can tell she’s surprised. Professionally, though, she clarifies, “Together… romantically?”

“Yeah, yeah, romance, sex, the whole— the whole thing.” He’s so fucking lucky. He shouldn’t have called. “Shit, why the hell am I even— Look, everything’s fine, I shouldn’t have called.”

“No, wait— wait a second, Dean.” So Dean waits, as Mia figures out what to say. She says, cautiously, “It seems like you might want to talk about this with someone who isn’t involved in the situation. I’m happy to be that person for you now.”

“Okay.” Dean shrugs. “I dunno… I dunno what my problem is, though. Everything’s perfect.”

Mia asks, “How do you— how do you feel about being in this relationship with Cas?”

“M’gonna fuck it up,” Dean says immediately. Mia waits, and Dean huffs out a laugh. “That’s pretty— that’s some pretty stereotypical fucked up guy shit to say, huh.”

“Not stereotypical,” Mia says, but there’s a smile in her voice. “Do you want to elaborate?”

No. But he’s— he’s on his last legs here. So he says, “I mean, I don’t. Cas says stuff, ‘bout how he feels, but I just. Sometimes it feels like I’m. Fakin’ it.” And then he rolls his eyes at himself and says, “Not like, sex stuff, that’s— great— but it’s. I mean, he deserves the world, y’know, rose petals in the bedroom and big— big gestures, and anniversary dinners and I’m barely.” He realizes, now, that he’s worried every damn day that it’ll be his last one with Cas. “I’m barely holdin’ it together.”

“What would you like out of your relationship with Cas?” Mia asks, and shit if that isn’t a straight cut to the heart of the problem.

Dean says, “I just— don’t want him to leave.”

Mia says gently, “Maybe… we could try reframing that as a want, Dean. It sounds like you want Cas to stay.”

“Oh.” That… makes sense. “Yeah.”

“What else do you think you might want with Cas?”

“I mean, I like the… the sex, and when we watch movies together.” He sounds like a teenager, good God. This is embarrassing.

Mia doesn’t seem to think so, though. She asks, “Do you actively want to do those things with Cas?”

“Shit.” That’s… a new one. “I never, uh. I never really thought about it like that.”

Mia says, “We’ve got about ten minutes left, Dean. I don’t want to rush you, but I wanted to let you know now. I think it might be helpful for you to figure out what you want with Cas. It doesn’t have to be anything big. You could make a decision about where you want to go for a date, or what movie you’d like to watch.”

But who cares about that, Dean thinks. Who gives a rat’s ass about what Dean wants, when Cas is— Cas is the one who went to the Empty and back, twice, Cas is the one who’s in love with him, it ain’t— it ain’t for Dean to figure what he wants and what he doesn’t. That doesn’t make any sense at all. He asks, “You, uh. You really think that’ll help?”

“It sounds to me like you’re incredibly grateful that Cas is back in your life,” Mia says. “But you deserve to have your needs and desires met, too.”

“Okay,” Dean says uncertainly. He wonders. He could… he hasn’t watched any Dr. Sexy in a while. It’s a stupid TV show, and Cas doesn’t really get the appeal, and Dean doesn’t want to— doesn’t want Cas to see him like that, shoveling snacks in his face and mooning over a fake doctor in a TV show when Cas is right there, like who’d want to see that? But maybe he could try. “Uh. I’ll try it. There’s a, a show, that Cas doesn’t really— I mean, it’s more my thing, so maybe I’ll suggest we watch it.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Dean. I’m glad,” Mia says. “How are you feeling? Is there anything you want to talk about before we wrap up?”

“No, uh.” What do you want, Dean. What do you want with Cas? “S’a lot to think about.”

“Thank you for sharing all of that with me. I know it’s hard to jump right into a therapy session.” After a light pause, she says, “I’d like to schedule another appointment with you, if that’s all right. I know it can be difficult to figure out what to do when you’re embedded in a situation, and I hope an external perspective can help.”

“Yeah… maybe,” Dean says. He’s got no clue if this has helped. The more he thinks about it the more stressed out he gets. What if Cas— he’s always waiting for the last straw, for Cas to see right through him, to see that he made a mistake. “Look, Mia, even if I don’t— I mean, thanks.”

“Of course, Dean,” Mia says. “It was nice to hear from you again.”

“Weirdly enough, you too,” Dean says. “I know we only got, what, five minutes on the clock, but… how’re you doin’? You’re all right, after everything?”

Mia chuckles. “Yeah, I moved to a new state, but I’m doing all right. I’ve actually been getting quite a few hunter referrals, which is a new set of clientele for me.”

“Huh.” Makes sense. You see shit everyone else thinks is nuts, you might start to go a little cuckoo yourself. “Glad you’re holdin’ up, then.”

“Thanks, Dean.”

“Yeah.” Dean figures he oughtta let her go, so he says, “I appreciate this. Really. You… you take care now.” Jesus. He’s such a fucking dad.

“Thank you. You too, Dean.”

Dean hangs up, and looks at the phone in his hands.

No one’s in the hallway when Dean gets out, but Sam nods at him in the library. “Hey,” Sam says, “I didn’t listen at all or anything, but just FYI, if you wanna— if you want me to put a soundproofing spell on the door or something for next time, just lemme know.”

Dean goes cold. “You heard,” he says, and he thinks, Cas mighta heard. Cas heard him complaining about how fuckin’ hard his life is, having his best friend in his life and in love with him and alive, like a— like a fucking idiot—  “Shit, Sam, you think Cas—”

“No, no, no, shit, man,” Sam rushes to say, “Cas was— I mean, he’s been out this whole morning. No way he overheard. Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up so soon after, I really didn’t hear a word, I just wanted to offer.”

He’s been out this whole morning. Okay. Okay. Maybe that night, a few days ago— maybe Cas did wake up, and maybe he did see Dean gone, and maybe it— he’s such a fucking dumbass. “S’fine,” Dean says, mouth numb with terror, as he thinks about Cas heading out and not coming back. About Cas putting the pieces together, about what Dean’s good for and what he isn’t. It’s all falling apart. “I’m— lunch? Lunch.”

Dean works it out on some dough, and then puts a roast in the slow cooker, and then makes more chili than you could shake a stick at. He bakes macarons and sugar cookies. After a solid three hours in the kitchen, his breathing slows. It’s fine. Cas is allowed to leave. He’s not— Dean’s not that guy. It’s fine.

Cas comes back around four in the afternoon and Dean feeds him two macarons before he can say a word. “Good, right?” Dean asks, and he settles even more when Cas gives him a gummy smile and two thumbs up.

Dean doesn’t ask where he went. He just bumps his shoulder, and presses a kiss to his cheek ‘cause that’s what you’re supposed to do when your— when your boyfriend or whatever is back from wherever the hell he went, and he lets Cas pick the movie after dinner.

Over the next two weeks, Cas withdraws. Dean probably wouldn’t even have noticed, or at least not put much stock in it, to be frank, except that it seems to happen right after the therapy session of doom, and even though Sam said Cas was out Dean can’t get it out of his head that Cas might’ve overheard him. Dean doesn’t even remember what he said anymore but he knows it’s not normal to phone a professional just to date someone. One night Cas leaves around eight and doesn’t come back until two in the fucking morning, and Dean pretends to be asleep ‘cause it’s fine, it’s fine, who the hell is he to keep Cas on a ball and chain.

But he tries to make up for it. Cas texts him at the grocery store to ask if he can pick up flour, and Dean says you’re not gonna try making sourdough again are you and then him and Cas get into an argument that keeps Dean stalled in the produce section with a grin on his face for a full twenty minutes.

He looks up when some lady bumps into his cart and then back down, and Cas has sent him a picture of his underwatered umbrella plant with a :(, and Dean’s grin falters. It’s obvious to everyone but him, isn’t it, all the people at the grocery store can see that he’s texting someone he’s— into, or whatever. If someone looked over his shoulder two minutes ago then they’d know it was a man, too, or they’d think so. And that’s fine. It is absolutely, unequivocally fine. So Dean, suddenly wracked with nerves, texts back gotta go pay, love you and locks his phone and doesn’t check to see if Cas says it back. He always does.

At home, he tries kissing Cas whenever he sees him, tries not to seem like he’s halfway out the door when they’re together, keeps him close and nudges his hip against Cas’s when they’re in the same room. Figures it can’t hurt, and he deletes Mia’s number, too, since it’s not like she can help him. Not like anyone can help him outta this mess, and not like there’s a mess to be helped out of, anyway. Dean has everything he wants, by all accounts. He just hasn’t figured out how to enjoy it yet.

One morning when Cas slides out of bed early and creaks out the door, Dean wakes up. “You goin’ out?”

“Just for a drive,” Cas says. Dean blinks at his phone — five in the goddamn morning. One of these days Cas’ll get the hang of having a circadian rhythm an’ then it’ll be like pulling teeth trying to get him up for breakfast, Dean’s certain of it.

Hell. Dean’s up anyway, and Cas hates driving. “You want a ride?”

Cas watches him slide out of bed and nods. “That would be nice.”

Dean rubs the sleep out of his eyes, pulls jeans on over his boxers, shoves a toothbrush in his mouth as he stumbles around looking for socks. “M’keys,” he mumbles, spraying toothpaste fucking everywhere, and Cas jangles them at him from the doorway.

Eventually they make it to the Impala, quarter past, and Dean blows out a breath. “Where to, Cas?”

“I’ll direct you.”

So Dean follows Cas’s voice. They hang a right on 130, drive right past the sign that says WELCOME TO THE GEOGRAPHICAL CENTER OF THE LOWER “48” STATES Find Souvenirs in Downtown Lebanon. Only God knows why they put 48 in quotation marks, and not even he could tell you where the hell they got the nerve to claim that Lebanon has a downtown. This early the highway’s empty, just tractors pulling out of their barns in the distance while the sun struggles up from the dust. Cas doesn’t put any music on, and Dean doesn’t insist.

Cas takes him north about fifteen minutes, a straight line once they hit 281, just up past the Nebraska border. If Dean knows his roads, the turnoff Cas pulls him down gets them to Cedar Creek, north of where it goes back into the ground to avoid running into Kansas. A tree here or there — but still more plains than not.

“Here,” Cas says, and Dean begrudgingly pulls Baby over into the dirt, in case some punk with an attitude tries to barrel down the one-way while they aren’t looking.

Smells like creek. Water, s’what he means, the sound of it n’ the smell of it distracting him from the manure. Dean huddles into his shirt, glad he pulled on a flannel rather than trying to go it with just a T-shirt — the wind means business out here.

Cas looks like a dream. That’s what Dean thinks — that Cas looks unreal, like something out of his imagination. He picks his way across the field in his practical boots and his comfortable sweatpants and his shirt busting at the seams ‘cause he still steals Dean’s clothes even though Dean’s about half the size he is, maybe ‘cause it makes Dean’s breath catch in his throat when he does. Dean wouldn’t know. Cas makes his way to a tree: a cottonwood sprouting up out of the empty grass, greener than all the rest of it. He stands and looks at it, and some bird — Dean wouldn’t know, he lives in a fucking bunker — cries out sharp and sweet, and the sun comes out from behind the leaves, rising in the east over the creek. Dean shoves his hands in his pockets and feels incredibly human.

Finally, when he gets tired of Cas being far enough away to become a picture, he makes his own way to the tree, ‘til he gets close enough that he doesn’t have to look at Cas anymore.

“The world is large,” Cas says, his voice deeper and quieter the way it always is the first hour after he wakes up, before he gets enough water in him. “It surprises me, sometimes. It feels like the entire world is wherever you are.”

Jesus Christ. Dean eyes him, keeps catching on his profile as he looks up. “Cas, man.”

“I mean, yes, like that,” Cas laughs, “but I also meant that trouble seems to follow you and your brother. I’ve spent shockingly little time outside of the continental United States in the past decade.”

“Fair enough.”

“So it shouldn’t surprise me that so few of my siblings fell to this part of the earth,” Cas continues, and Dean looks back at the fucking tree. “Many of them survived. But many of them didn’t.”

The wind ruffles the leaves, snakes through the grass. Whips up the water, where it can touch it.

“I found this only a few weeks ago. This is the only gravesite I’ve found,” Cas says. He blows out a breath. “I don’t know why I come here. I can’t— it’s strange to remember a time when Hephael was close to me. When we were one. Hephael would have destroyed me for what I am today, although I… I’m glad of where I am, now.”

“Yeah, man? You don’t miss it?” Dean can’t stop himself from asking. He shouldn’t ask. It isn’t for him to know, and besides, they’re here for— Hephael, or whoever.

Cas shifts beside him. Dean catches it out of the corner of his eye, Cas’s body moving. “Not the way I would miss you or humanity if I had to leave. Maybe I miss it like— the way you’d miss being a child. The ease of it. But it wasn’t really uncomplicated, you just— didn’t know enough to grasp the truth of it.”

Dean drops his head, heavy and just— just finished. Done. “Yeah, hah,” he huffs out. As if the not-knowing was the easiest part of being a kid.


“I wasn’t gonna say anything.” He rolls his shoulders back, looks back up.

“I’m sorry,” Cas says earnestly. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

Yeah, well. Cas doesn’t even seem to care about this Hephael, but he still leaves at night to— what, pay his respects? All that time Dean spent scrubbing at his plates and swallowing down cold omelettes and avoiding Sam’s looks whenever Dean went to sleep alone; all that time, Cas was here.

“So,” he says, and he knows it ain’t gonna be good what comes out of him, but he still says, cringing as he does it: “You’re not mad at me?”

“What?” Cas steps in front of him, catches his gaze. “Dean, no, of course not, I—” He tilts his head, and crap, yeah, Dean knew he’d figure it out, but Cas asks, “Is that why you’ve been—?”

He doesn’t finish his sentence. Dean swallows. “What’re you talking about?” he asks, even though it’s obvious as all hell. They both know what he means. The cheek kisses, the touchy-feely in the kitchen, the love yous texted from the grocery store.

“You don’t have to—” Cas looks sick, almost, and Dean— Dean hates himself. “If you think I’m angry, or— you don’t have to do this for me, just to, to make me happy—”

“Well that’s the whole fucking reason we’re even—” Don’t say it, don’t fucking say it, Winchester, “—doing this, us in the first place, ain't it?” God damn it. Idiot.

Cas steps back, and inhales sharply. Son of a bitch, you fucked it up good, Deano. “What,” he starts, quiet, quiet the way he always is in the first hour after he wakes up, oh God, “what do you—”

“You said it first,” Dean spits, riled up, not even sure why— ‘cause it’s him, he’s the problem, it ain’t Cas who he oughtta take it out on but Cas is the only one there, isn’t he— and— “And then you—” Came back, he should say, but he can’t. He can’t say it, because saying it means that he has to look at what happened before he came back— at the thing Cas had to come back from. He has to look at it head on. And he can’t do that.

Cas is breathing hard, chest heaving under his too-tight T-shirt, Dean’s too-tight T-shirt, and Dean just—

“What was I supposed to do?” he asks, begs, something starting behind his eyes that might be a good goddamn cry. “I was breakin’ your heart, Cas, every time you looked at me, an’— an’ what difference does it make, huh? What’s the difference between— what we were, and what we are, other than—”


Cas says his name like he always does— as if Dean deserves— Cas always says his name like it means more than it should. Dean shuts the hell up. And Cas chokes out again, “Dean—”

“Oh, Christ,” Dean whispers, coming back into his body. Oh Christ. Oh Christ. What did he do. “Cas, babe—”

Cas flinches. “Do you even want to call me that, or is it something you’ve just— just learned is what you’re supposed to say? I thought—” He looks away, and Dean can’t fucking watch him walk away, not now— “I thought I could trust you,” Cas snarls. “I thought I could trust us to be real. To be something real, out of this whole— out of all of it.”

“Forget it. I shouldn’t’ve—” piece of shit, he’s a piece of shit, he had it so fucking good, “that was, s’just what I thought back then, not— Cas—” and he might, if he’s capable of it then it really is Cas, it’s gotta be, “you know I love you—”

“Please don’t say that.” Cas wipes his face and walks towards the car.

Dean follows him, jogs to keep up, asks, “You don’t— you don’t want me anymore?”

“Dean.” The way Cas says it— like he’s pleading. Dean didn’t fucking want this. He stops, in the middle of that field, and says straight to Dean’s face, “You lied to me. I trusted you, and you lied to me.”

“But I.” His mouth is numb. He feels like the stupidest motherfucker on the planet. “I did it for you.”

Cas laughs, hysterical. “Now I know why you hated it, every time I said those words to you.”

Dean looks at him. Really looks at him. Takes in that face of his — handsome, that part’s undeniable. And beautiful, the way all the angels are, whatever’s holy in them always pushing through. And his eyes. Those’re what got Dean when they first met, and he’ll never forget it no matter how many years go by, the way Cas looked at him. Dean had thought— he remembers, in that barn, twelve years ago, he’d thought, if I fall to my knees right now, I’ll never get up. So I better keep standing.

Cas, for once, is the one to look away first. “Please just go,” he says to the wind, and Dean can’t listen to him. “Please. Just leave.”

“But I— I drove you here.” It’s the most normal, human, mundane thing in the world, but he says, “It’s fifteen miles back to the bunker.”

“I’ll walk.”

“That’s crazy, Cas, lemme— lemme drive you home—”

“Why? Why do any of this? What do you want, Dean?”

Cas’s biceps splitting the seams of Dean’s shirts. Cas’s Sunday afternoon grumbling over his weekly Sudoku puzzle. The only thing Dean can think to say is, “I don’t want you to leave, that’s what.”

Cas turns back to him, wild-eyed. “So I won’t leave! Dean— what did I do?” He steps forward, puts his hand on Dean’s cheek, and it— Dean wraps his hand around Cas’s wrist to hold him there, keep him, feel him warm on his skin. “What did I do to you, to make you think you owed me this? I thought we didn’t owe each other anything but—”

“God, Cas—”

“—the truth.”

Dean closes his eyes, feeling Cas holding him. “I fucked up,” he whispers. “I know that. But please— please get in the car with me.” He is suddenly convinced that if Cas doesn’t come home with him now, Dean will never see him again. Dean’s mouth twists, and he— he opens his eyes, ‘cause maybe that’ll make— maybe Cas’ll say yes if he does. Voice cracking, he begs, “Please. Please let me drive you home.”

Cas pries his wrist out of Dean’s grip, and Dean lets him, shocky with preemptive grief. He huffs out a laugh. “All right. Fine. Yes.”

Dean exhales. His chest feels like it’s caved in. He ruined it. He had it so good — had it better than he deserved, better than anything, best he ever had and he— he ruined it. “For what it’s worth,” he says, “I liked it. Everything we— I liked it all, I just—”

“You don’t love me.”

Dean can’t say that to him. “I do love you,” he tries.

“Like a brother,” Cas agrees, mouth twitching down.

Dean thinks of Cas in his bed last night. “Well, jeez, I sure hope not—”


He sighs. “What can I say? It’s— maybe it’s just broken in me. The piece that— I wish I could give it to you easy, Cas. More’n anything, I wish that.” He swallows. If only— if he were a real person, the kind of person who knew how to do this, then he could make Cas happy.

“But I can’t,” he admits, gutted. He looks down at his hands, covered in gun and shovel calluses and cut and bloodlet more times than he can remember, and he thinks— who’d want anything out of these hands? These hands, always empty. “This is all I got, Cas,” he says down to his hands. “I know it ain’t good enough, I know that, but— how could I ask you?”

“Ask me what?”

“Ask you to wait,” Dean says hoarsely. “Ask you to wait for me to have that piece. After all these years— when I shoulda figured it out from the start.”

He looks up at Cas, who’s wrecked. Like the sun and the wind both had their way with him, and the grass is coming in for a third round. Dean’s sure he ain’t much better.

“I don’t need to wait,” Cas says quietly. “I don’t know how to tell you this in a way that you’ll believe, but I don’t need anything from you. I just— I just want you. That’s the truth of it.” And Cas smiles at him, that same— that same damn smile from when he— when the Empty came— and Dean’s gaze darts down to his shoulder ‘cause he can’t take that face, not like that. Not right now. “I love you for who you are, Dean, not what you can give me.”

Dean shakes his head. “That don’t make a lick of sense to me, Cas.”

“I know.” Cas stands there, while the sun creeps up past the cottonwood, while the creek burbles happily in the distance, while the grass sways under them.

Eventually, Cas says, “Get in the car. I just— I just need a minute.”

So Dean gets in the car, and stares out past the windshield. He is completely empty. There isn’t a thing inside him. He’s nothing. Null and void.

When he looks to his right, Cas is there, just a few feet from the passenger seat window, back turned to the Impala. Gazing up at the sky. If Dean looks too long, too close, he notices Cas’s shoulders shaking, sees the tremble in his jawline; he doesn’t want to see that. So he looks back out in front of him, where he should’ve kept his eyes in the first place. He shouldn’t have been so greedy.

Cas pulls the door open, and sits down in the passenger seat, and closes the door behind him. Dean keeps looking forward. “I’m ready to go home now,” Cas says, dully, and Dean drives them to the bunker.

Out of the garage, Cas makes a beeline for their room, so Dean steers himself to the Dean Cave, and sits himself in front of the TV, and tries not to think about much of anything at all.

That night, Sam catches him falling asleep on the couch, like a man who’s been kicked out of bed by the wife. In the doghouse. Not like Dean was gonna kick Cas out of their room, not when the guy’s just getting used to sleeping in the first place while Dean has three decades of experience sleeping in motel rooms and Baby’s backseat.

“Thought you weren’t falling asleep in front of the TV anymore,” Sam says, pushing Dean halfway off the couch so he can sit. Sometimes Dean forgets how goddamn large his kid brother got until he’ll just take up half a couch, all on his lonesome.

Dean shoves his feet in Sam’s lap in retaliation. Sam puts his hand on Dean’s shin and Dean thinks, if I’d just accepted that this was enough, none of this woulda happened.

Sam pulls out his e-reader — Cas got him one, because they’re gift-giving buddies now, apparently — and squints at the screen while Dean tries to pretend everything is completely goddamn fine.

Eventually, once Sam’s finished his page or his chapter or whatever, he turns it off. “You going to bed?”

Dean swallows. This whole day, he didn’t want to tell Sam. He kind of — hell, he doesn’t know what he expected. Maybe that Sam just… wouldn’t notice. That was stupid.

He says, “I fucked up,” and finds that he can’t really say anything else. That’s all there is to it, isn’t it. Dean fucked it up, quick and dirty like he always does, and the only difference this time is that he still has to live with Cas in the aftermath. Oh fuck, what if Cas— what if Cas leaves—

Sam’s hand tightens around his shin. “God damn, Dean.” He blows out a breath. “I’m sorry. I just— I dunno, I thought you two were good together. He’s really— I mean, you wanna talk about it?”

“What’s there to say?” Dean blinks up at the ceiling, feeling completely untethered, connected to the earth only through the heat of Sam’s palm through his jeans. Why the hell does he wear jeans in the bunker, anyway? He can— he’s allowed to wear sweatpants. Nobody’s looking. He could wear whatever the hell he wanted. But still, every goddamn day, he wakes up and he slips out of bed in his boxers and he puts on jeans and a T-shirt and flannel on top of it… for what? Why the hell does he do that?

Sam sighs. “Okay, lay it on me. Full scope of the fuckup. I wanna know.”

“Why?” Dean cranes his head up to look at his brother. “What could there possibly be in this— this whole shitshow, why the hell would you want to know anything about it?”

“Maybe because I have to live with you knuckleheads?” Sam retorts, and Dean flops his head back. Yeah. Fair enough. Sam continues, gentler, “Plus, you know, I just. You’re my family. I want you to work it out.”

“That’s nice, Sam.” Dean inhales. Christ. He covers his face with his hands, can’t— can’t even look at anything right now. He’s not crying, exactly, but he just. He needs it.

And he says, “Told Cas I wasn’t in love with him.”

Sam gasps. Like, full on gasps, telenovela-style.

“Wow, okay, drama queen—”

“Seriously?” Okay, maybe it was more of like, a soft but audible exhale. Still. Definitely a gasp. “Dean, I— okay. Okay. Uh. What? I—I—I thought you— you two were, you know—”

“Well, it’s just—” And then Dean finds himself wanting to lay the whole sorry story out. He says, “He came back. And, I didn’t want— we’re lucky, to have so many chances. And the things he said, ‘fore he died, I just.” He doesn’t know how else to say it. He says, “I just wanted him to stay. But then it got— saying it, it got to be too much, I didn’t wanna keep— lying to the guy, y’know, he’s—”

“No, okay, back up. You… you what, pretended to be in love with him? Why the hell would you do that, Dean?”

“I don’t know,” Dean groans, but he does know. He knows absolutely. He would’ve done anything to keep Cas around. He just… wasn’t ready to live with that decision every waking minute after he made it.

‘Course, Sam doesn’t know any of that. Sam says, “Jesus, Dean.”

“Yeah. I know.”

There’s a long pause. Dean can’t look at him. The only reason he even knows Sam is still in the room is because he’s trapped under Dean’s legs, and Dean’s not thinking about it any more than that.

Eventually, Sam tries, “But, okay. Let me just— so, he comes back. And you… knew that he was in love with you. So you told him you were also in love with him, even though you… weren’t… so he wouldn’t… leave.”

“It sounds fucking deranged when you put it that way.”

“It is deranged, Dean! What the hell were you thinking?”

“I just—” Dean blows out a breath. Through his hands, he says, “Fuck, I don’t know, Sammy, I just— he was dead, all right? Cas was—” and his voice cracks, God, like he’s a goddamn teenager, “—gone, and I just. And he was back. Sam, you can’t— when I saw him, I just— how could I not? If I were him, I wouldn’t— I mean, he’s in love with me, so he’s fucked in the head in the first place, sure, but not even Cas would stick around and live with the object of his— his goddamn unrequited love until the end of time!”

Dean lets his hands fall from his face as he continues, in a rush, “And it’s not like it— it hurts me to be, I mean I’m lucky he’s even— all those waitresses, y’know, Cas is the one who’s the looker, and— so it’s just, I couldn’t follow through. That’s it.”

He looks up, and Sam’s eyes are closed. “Sammy?”

Sam holds a hand up, and Dean’s mouth closes.

“Dean—” and then Sam takes in a deep breath. Exhaling, he says, “Okay. I think I get the picture.”

“Explain it to me, then, ‘cause hell if I know what’s going on in my head half the time.”

“Yeah, man, I’m getting that.” Sam studies his hands for a moment, and then turns to meet Dean’s eyes. “First off. Cas trusted you, Dean. That’s what the problem is. He trusted you on this one, and you really betrayed him by lying.”

Fuck. His chest feels tight, his skin prickles, but it’s goddamn true, isn’t it. “Yeah. I know.”

“And you betrayed yourself.”

Dean blinks. “I— what?”

“Look.” Sam swallows. He says, “I mean. I— you always.” Dean watches him clench his jaw, watches him think long and hard about what he wants to say. “With Dad. When— when— when we were growing up, and you’d gimme. Gimme the last— the last bowl of cereal, or.” Sam exhales through his nose. “I’m trying— I’m trying to, to say that it— it— it makes sense, that you might not really— that you wouldn’t be used to thinking about what you want.”

“Jeez, Sam,” Dean breathes. Heavy hitter, this kid. “Not pullin’ your punches, huh.”

“I’m saying that maybe…” And Sam’s cheek twitches, and he says, “Maybe you still think you gotta settle for what you can get. Like you don’t deserve any better.”

All right, Freud. And anyway— “After all the shit I’ve done—”

“Yeah, you get to be— accountable, like everybody else, but you. You’re allowed to want things, man. People can tell you no, but you’re allowed to ask.”

“So, what, I didn’t want things enough?” Dean thinks about it. All of his helpless desperation for Cas, his dirty hands all over him. “Sam, I— I made my choices, I’m the one who fucked Cas over so bad he— he—” Dean closes his eyes. Cas, in the passenger seat on that twenty minute drive home that was too short and too long all at once. “He won’t even look at me.”

Sam thumbs over his shin soothingly, maybe to take the sting outta his words. “Imagine you’re in love with someone, and you— you get ‘em, in— in— in bed or whatever, and you find out months later that the whole thing was… was made up, just to make you happy. How would you feel, Dean?”

“That’s not. I mean.” Dean knows his face is red, but fuck, he’s here, isn’t he, talking about his goddamn relationship problems with Sam. Quietly, he admits: “I liked it.”

“But you… you said you did all this just to make him stay.”

“Why’s that—” such a big deal, who cares why anyway, the real problem is that Dean’s too broken to keep up a real relationship. “I mean, yeah, I want him to stay. And why the hell would he stay if he didn’t—” get what he wanted. “What was I supposed to do, huh?”

“Dean, man. You gotta figure out what you actually want from Cas. You owe him that.”

Oh, fuck. The whole truth of it comes slithering out, disgusting and filthy and sloppy. “All I want is for him to stay,” Dean says, and that’s the whole fucking truth of it. “There ain’t a lot I wouldn’t do to— to keep him safe and… and here. Today I just.” I just fucked it up. I just got too mad too fast, the way I always do, the way I do ‘cause I got this anger inside me that won’t go anywhere. “Just couldn’t keep lyin’ to him.”

Dean looks up at Sam, who seems bewildered. “So you liked the sex.” Dean winces, but nods. “And you like Cas. And you’d— you’d do anything to keep him with you. And you want him to be happy.”

“I mean, the guy’s— y’know, he’s Cas. And I mean, I know you’re—” Dean handwaves vaguely, and hopes it accurately conveys straight or not attracted to Cas or whatever the appropriate phrase is here, “but look at the guy, like, you gotta admit.”

Sam snorts. “Dean. He looks like a middle-aged white dude.”

“I.” Dean swallows. “Oh.”

And then Sam says something groundbreaking, but he says it so gentle, as if that’ll make it any easier. “Have you considered that you… might actually be in love with him?”

“But I’m not gay.” What. What. He— he obviously is, a little bit, he spent all that time on the gay panic internet, and— it’s some stupid instinct in him that said it and now it’s out there. Yeah, Sam’s got good reason for the look on his face.

“Holy shit, dude. Is that what this is about? Some bullshit masculinity Dad beat into us?”

“Don’t.” Dean finally pulls his legs up, swings over to sit beside Sam, ‘cause he can’t look at him for this. “He didn’t— not— not with you. So don’t—” Dean clears his throat. He can still feel John Winchester’s rage, after Flagstaff. He can still feel his hands on him from when Sam left for college. Hoarsely, as if Dad had choked him out only yesterday, he says, “Don’t say it like that.”

“Okay, yeah. Yeah. I’m sorry.”

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe that is why,” Dean murmurs, looking at his hands, hands that look more like Dad’s than anyone else’s. Winchester palms made for loading and shooting. “Why I’m so angry all the time, why I’m— Sam, s’just. There’s just so many— it just feels all wrong.” He looks at the TV’s blank screen in front of him, thinking about the last time he was in here with Cas. They’d watched this Eastern bloc black and white flick called Ikarie XB-1, because Cas subscribed to the newsletter of some indie theater out in California on Sam’s recommendation. Dean had put his arm around Cas’s shoulders on the couch, and let Cas commentate on socialist sci-fi visuals and filled in the blanks when Cas got stuck on why the hell an American spaceship would have a casino and two nukes on it, and it was perfect.

And then Cas had said, We could go out to a movie theater together, and Dean had stiffened. He’d put on a smile and said, Sure, sweetheart, I’d love that, and kissed Cas until he stopped feeling sick in his stomach.

To Sam, or rather, to that powered-off TV, he says, “It feels. Like I’m going through the motions, or something.” He exhales. “Fuck, Sam.” He’ll never get it together. Cas deserves someone who can hold his hand at the farmer’s market, who can kiss him in public and write poems for him and pick flowers on a whim and put ‘em in vases, and Dean’s. Dean can never do that for him. It ain’t in him. He still has his father’s fury coiled up too tight inside him, and it’ll never let him go.

Sam rubs a hand on his back. “I— I dunno how to help, man, I’m sorry.” He asks, “Have you— I could send you Mia’s contact info, or.”

“She’s the one I called a few weeks ago,” Dean admits. “It ain’t for me.” It probably could be, if he gave it another shot, but he can’t fucking think about therapy right now or he’ll blow. A shrink to tell him all the ways he’s fucked up, yeah, he already knows. He knows.

“Okay, sure,” Sam says. “Maybe… could help to journal or something, y’know? I keep a journal.”

“You have a diary?” Dean asks incredulously, and then regrets it. Trying to be nice, he asks, “What do you write about?”

“S’not a—” Sam laughs. “I guess it is, whatever, I dunno why I’m getting— defensive, over, over a word. I just.” He shrugs. “Sometimes I write about— about what I’m feeling.” He pulls his hand back from Dean, digs his right thumb into his left palm, something that brings Dean back to those godawful days when Lucifer was in his brother’s head. “When it gets real bad, I’ll, uh. I’ll describe all the things I can— can see, or smell, or whatever. Or I’ll just.” Sam exhales. “Just how I’m feeling. Or things that— that happened. I’ll write ‘em down so I know they… so I remember.”

“Shit,” Dean says. “Yeah. That’s good to write down.” He tries, “You know, uh. You can. You can talk to me about that stuff, too.”

“Oh yeah? You really wanna hear about—” and Sam freezes, and Dean freezes, because they both know how that sentence ends.

“I don’t wanna hear about it, ‘cause I hate that it happened to you,” Dean says carefully, thinking of the look in Sam’s eyes and the slump of his shoulders when he’d walked into that apocalypse world camp with Lucifer hot on his tail. He thinks of Sam curled up in the backseat, dead-eyed, after they got him out of that basement in Missouri, where they’d left Toni alive. He thinks about Gadreel. He hadn’t figured it out, before, but now he knows. He remembers Abaddon’s hands on his bare chest threatening to blow out his anti-possession tat and he knows now the truth of what he did to his brother. “But I’ll listen. I really will.”

“Thanks,” Sam mumbles. And then, louder, “Shit, sorry, we were— we were talking about Cas.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Dean says, because for all it hurts right now, it’s— it’s a breakup. They’ll get through it, or they won’t, and Dean doesn’t have time to think about it right now, ‘cause Sam’s in front of him with his thumb over his palm and his knee bouncing restlessly. “Don’t apologize. Journaling was a good suggestion. Hell, maybe I really will start one.”

“Cool,” Sam says. He stands up suddenly, and says, “I’m— heading to bed. You, uh. You sleepin’ down here?”

“I dunno,” Dean says. “Yeah, I guess.”

“I could.” Sam scratches the back of his neck. “We could get a mattress into my room. If you want… if you wanna have a sleepover.”

“What, you want me to braid your hair?” Dean asks, but he’s standing up, ‘cause hell if it doesn’t sound good to not be alone right now. Sam quirks a smile, and Dean nods.

And they haul a mattress over to the floor next to Sam’s bed, and Dean flops down on it in his boxers, and listens to Sam’s breathing the way he did nearly every night for the first twenty-two years of his life. Into the silence, Dean whispers: “Thanks, Sam.”

“No prob, man,” Sam whispers back, rustling the sheets in his bed. “You’re my brother.”

The morning after, Dean needs new clothes, ‘cause he can’t wear Sam’s laundry for the rest of his life. He goes into their room — his room — Cas’s room, or, fuck — but.

Cas’s stuff is gone.

Dean stops in the doorway, and wheezes out a breath, and looks at it. The wreckage. Not that it’s— it’s actually cleaner than it usually is, because Cas’s stuff is gone. No trenchcoat hanging off the doorknob and dragging along the floor. No phone charger trailing under the side table. No book face-down on the desk. Just— just— and the dresser is closed up tight because Cas’s stuff isn’t filling the drawers past capacity, fuck, fuck, fuck

Dean scrambles for the hallway, half-jogging to the kitchen. Not that that’d make a difference if he fucked it up so bad Cas left, if he— if he— Dean pauses, tries to breathe, can’t. He’s the worst piece of shit in the world. Cas left. After all that, all the things Cas said, after Cas said I love you it still wasn’t enough— Dean wasn’t enough— imagine, Dean thinking he could keep someone around without the heavy weight of blood between them. Dean puts his head down alone in that hallway and looks at his knobbly knees and wonders if he would’ve had more luck if he’d been twenty and kept his mouth open more and said a little less. That’s what he’s for, right, that’s what— he’s not supposed to think things— he’s just so stupid.

Once he gets feeling back into his toes, Dean speeds over to the kitchen, and— 

Cas is there.

“Shit,” Dean breathes, quietly, but Cas turns around anyway. Sam isn’t there, so he’s probably out on a run, and Cas is. “Hey, Cas.”

“Dean,” Cas says stonily, and turns back to his breakfast. Half-burnt toast, ‘cause Dean wasn’t there to make him breakfast, scrambled eggs and honey on his pancakes the way he likes.

“I.” Dean clears his throat. Sweating, he says, “I noticed you… you got your stuff out of. The room.” The room. Right. Subtle, man.

Cas’s shoulders tighten. “It seemed inappropriate to stay, considering the way we left things.”

Yeah. All right. Dean says, “If you. If you want me out, you can— you can keep the room.” It’s a small price to pay. Dean would give up his memory foam mattress and his Vonnegut shelf in a heartbeat for Cas.

Cas stands up. He won’t look at Dean. He says to the sink, “It’s your room. And I don’t want to sleep there anymore anyway.”

Dean sinks back against the doorway, stunned. So, it’s over. No chance. He’s never gonna touch Cas again, probably. That’s… it.

The sharp pain under his breastbone is more heartbreak than anything else. Dean rubs a hand over it anyway, as if the heat from his palm can fix the soul-deep wrongness.

“Okay,” Dean says hoarsely. “If you. If you need anything.”

“I don’t need anything from you, Dean,” Cas says to his dishes. Civil, even. Like it doesn’t matter one way or another.

He starts scrubbing his plate. Dean takes the hint. Dean leaves him there in the kitchen.

The long and short of it is that Dean just took too long to figure out that Cas was the love of his goddamn life. That’s it. That’s the whole truth of it.

He takes Sam’s little lecture to heart. He figures Cas doesn’t want to see much of him at all, but he still walks past his door every night to make sure he’s still there, gets his four hours at three in the morning where he dreams that Cas finally up and gits, leaving Dean with only the memory of him hunched over and furious in the passenger seat on the way back from that cottonwood. It was so fucking sick of him to think it, but Dean thought he’d just gotten more beautiful, that he was the most beautiful Dean had ever seen him that day, all that condensed rage inside him. That, and the certainty that he would never hurt Dean, not in ways they couldn’t recover from.

Not the way Dean hurt him.

Anyway, Dean decides to write in a journal. He figures people recommend it for a reason, and he likes writing, likes putting words together. Not that he’s any good at it, but he mainlined enough fiction through his twenties to feel like he has a grasp on the basics, at least. And anyway no one else is gonna see this — and if they do, then Dean’s got a nice backup plan of heading straight into a vamp nest to let the Empty take him forever, that’s for damn sure.

So he hunches over his dollar store notebook and taps his pen against the desk. And he writes:

Cas and I broke up. It is what it is. Shoulda prepared better for it, considering.

He looks at the page, his handwriting awkward and cramped. He thinks about high school English teachers asking and why is that important? in red ink after every sentence Dean wrote in his essays that never could hit the minimum word counts. As if you had to actually put it into words, to explain that the whole reason Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise end up in South America is because the US couldn’t hold them, wasn’t built for guys like that who lived strange transient frantic violent intimate lives, that if guys like that ever crossed the border back into the good ol’ US of A they’d end up dead or dying slow— but Dean digresses.

So. Considering what?

Considering that I always fuck things up.

Christ, that’s stark.

So it just makes sense.

I fucked this one up because I lied to Cas. I told him from the get go that I was in love with him when I thought I wasn’t. And then I ended up figuring out that actually I was. Unreal.

I just didn’t want him to go. Every time he leaves it’s the last thing I see coming, even though it happens all the goddamn time. He wasn’t built to stick around with chumps like me, that’s for sure, and sometimes — all the time — I wonder why the hell he’s slumming it down here with us. Not us like humans, us like Winchesters. I wonder if we’re his penance. I wonder if he knows he’s already paid his debts.

So: me and Cas. What do I want? I want him to stay. I want him to take me for granted, the way Sam does. I mean, I want him to think, Dean wants me around, so I’ll show up anytime, I’ll sit in his room for three days straight and make him buy me dinner at the county fair.

I want him to quit fucking dying on me.

You hear that, universe, God, Death, whoever? I’ll do anything for it. For him to die only once, with the people he loves surrounding him, happy and old and not a single heroic thing about it. And if we’re making wishes I want to go before him. I don’t want to be there when he dies — I want to already be dead.

Fuck, that’s selfish. But it’s true. I want to be dead before Cas goes and if this universe has anything of its own in it outside of Chuck then that’s coming sooner than not. Fine by me. I’ve been alive two decades too long far as I’m concerned, but Cas hasn’t really lived yet. He doesn’t know what he likes. He doesn’t have a favorite sweater yet. He doesn’t know if he likes karaoke. He doesn’t have a comfort TV show — but I guess the entirety of television is his comfort zone. Still. You gotta give him a chance to figure it out.

I mean. He figured out one thing. But you can’t hold him to it now — he wasn’t even human back then. If he’d just

if it’s still what he wants, then yeah, I’d

Of course I’d say yes if he said he still wanted me but the important part is that I just want him here. Which is stupid because that’s the opposite of all those things I said about Cas figuring out what he wants. Maybe I could go with him. If there’s a way for Cas to figure out what he really wants from this life, and for him to get it, and for me to be there while he does it, then that’s what I want.

Other stuff I want. The usual. Everybody safe. Sam safe and around. A good burger and a fantastic slice of pie. These days I don’t even fantasize about anybody other than Cas so I’ll leave porn off the list this time. God I’m getting old.

After a long pause, Dean adds, in a small and embarrassed scrawl at the bottom of the page: I think I want to keep getting older, if that’s in the cards. But that’s a pretty big ask.

He exhales. He’s never written so much in one go that wasn’t an addition to Dad’s notebook. It hits him, suddenly, that the thing inside him that he hates and fears and loves is just death. It’s all just death.

He bites down on his fist, breath hitching, as he thinks on it. All together there’ve been five months of his life where he’s been certain Cas was never coming back. He remembers them well, thinks he’s always been living in them, because the only thing there for him was absence. Nothing. A great and terrible fear.

Oh, God. Dean closes his eyes, and his shoulders shake, and it hits him, all at once. He lost him. He lost him. Cas had— and Dean had reached out in the night and there was nothing there, nothing at all. Who was he? He is, has always been and always will be, fundamentally, Sam’s brother, but Dean— Dean, for himself, who is he, if not Castiel’s—

“Shit,” he whispers, gasping, hand over his mouth like that’ll keep him quiet. Dean’s never been able to keep anything, not when it counts. His tears stain the page as he rolls his head forward, forehead pressed down onto his desk like if he curls in close enough he won’t feel alone anymore. Christ. Christ. “Sh—shit,” he gasps to himself, into his own palm, shaking. He’s shaking. He can’t see a damn thing, just— just— he closes his eyes and there’s that dungeon without Cas, that nothing, just him alone on the floor, on the fucking ground, like trash.

He jumps when someone knocks on the door. Fuck. Dean scrubs a hand over his face, tries to breathe in, can’t really hold it past the catch when he thinks too hard about—

He stumbles across the room and opens the door to Sam’s face. Like he needs someone else to see this, good God. “Uh— Dean?”

“M’fine,” Dean grits out, sniffling. “Sup?”

Sam pushes Dean into his room, closes the door behind him. “I— I was gonna ask, if, if you wanted to— s’not important, man. What’s wrong?”

Dean shakes his head, stepping back to sit on his bed. “Nothin’,” he says, laughing while he’s broken up about it, because it’s true. Cas is alive, isn’t he? Isn’t that good enough? “Just— just—” He tilts his head back to the ceiling, as if gravity will keep his tears inside. “I fucked it up,” he whispers again, and there his voice goes, cracking right down the center line like a bad batch of asphalt. “Cas was— an’ I just—”

“Hey,” Sam says softly, “c’mon, you— you guys can work it out. I know you can.”

“S’just that he was— he was fuckin’ dead, Sammy,” he croaks out, feeling half-dead himself. “He was dead.”

“I know,” Sam says. “Dean, I was— I was there. I know what you were like.”

“What was I supposed to do?” Dean knuckles the crying out of his eyes, looking up at Sam. His brother. How’d he do it? All those years ago, with Jess, he just— he kept pressing on. He let Dean keep pressing him on. How in the hell did he do it?

Sam says, “You got a second chance here,” and Dean knows it. He knows it ‘cause he blew it. He remembers that time— that first time, when Sam had crumpled over in Cold Oak with his spine cut in half and Dean had thought, I just got you back. I just got you back and I lost you again. He’d blown that chance, too.

“What do I do?” Dean asks him, ‘cause he’s got no clue anymore. All he knows is the undertow that pulled him in when Cas left, and the way his grief coughed him up when he came back.

Sam does that thing, raises his eyebrows and scrubs his hand through his hair when he knows the answer to something and doesn’t want to say it.


“You— you figure out what you want yet?” When Dean’s mouth twists, Sam’s head tilts in pity. “Dean. Come on, man. That’s step number one.”

“Well, I.” Dean exhales. “Okay. Okay. I want ‘im here. And I want—” He flushes, and tries to keep it PG for Sam’s sake. “I mean, I want what we— we did together. I liked that.” And so he asks: “You think that’s enough?”

“Only Cas can answer that one,” Sam says. But then his mouth crooks up and he says, “I think it will be, though.”

“Got more faith in me than I do,” Dean says. He shakes his head, and asks, “What were you gonna ask me? Before?”

“Huh? Oh, I—” Sam huffs. “I was gonna ask if— if you wanted to come down to Salina with me to, to pick up some stuff from the occult shop, get outta here for a while, y’know, get some— get some space. But. Maybe it’s better if I go by myself, let you two talk it out.”

“Yeah, uh—” Dean stands up, thinking about it. He might as well get it over with. “Okay, yeah, sure, I’ll do that. Have fun in town.”

Sam opens the door, but before he leaves, he says, “Y’know— it’ll work out, man. No matter what happens, it’s gonna be okay.”

“F’you say so,” Dean says, and stands there, thinking.

And then, once he hears their garage door close behind Sam, he makes his way to Cas’s room.

Dean knocks on Cas’s door. Two in the afternoon, although you wouldn’t know it to look around, seein’ as the bunker’s bright and buzzing 24/7.

Shit. Cas opens the door and Dean thinks, we gotta get him some sunlight.

“Wanna go for a drive?” he asks, rough with nerves. If Cas says no then this might be it. He might’ve blown past his last chances ten miles back, not even realizing he’s outta gas ‘til he’s halfway through puttering out.

But Cas says, “Fine,” mouth tilting down at the edge the way it does when he’s pissed off, and Dean watches him put another shirt on ‘cause he gets cold easy and watches him put socks on ‘cause he likes wearing socks and sandals, the dumbass. Too used to covered up feet after all those years in Jimmy’s shoes, Dean figures.

Cas follows him in swollen, sullen silence to the impala and sets his hands in his lap. Dean pulls out, drives aimlessly, settling on west as the direction with more potential than east, squinting with the sun in his eyes so he doesn’t have to look at Cas.

Eventually, after maybe ten minutes straight on 36, Dean tries. He says, throat clacking through the dryness, “M’sorry ‘bout what I said in Nebraska.”

“Is that so,” Cas says, leaning his shoulder against the door, looking out at the plains, and Dean sighs.

Another five minutes. The sun boils down on cornfed country, the road getting flatter and flatter the further he goes.

“I didn’t wanna lie to you anymore,” Dean tries again. He should’ve prepared notes. A tractor trundles in the field past Cas’s head, yard posts flicking past like cards in a deck. “Wasn’t fair to you, what I did.”

Cas nods. His eyes are still focused on the mirror, maybe, or the dirt at the edge of the road. “Yes. That’s true.” He hasn’t looked at Dean once.

“Wasn’t right,” Dean goes on, trembling, realizing the truth of it as he says it, “makin’ you think— makin’ you think you had me, when I.” When I’m broken. When I’m a sadder sack of shit than even you could’ve thought — you who raised me, you who built me from dust. “When I don’t have that to give to anybody.”

“I—” Cas sits up, turning to Dean, but Dean keeps his eyes on the road. He hasn’t earned those blue eyes, not yet. “Dean. You’re full of love. What on earth makes you think—”

“But this? The kind of love you’re askin’ from me?”

Cas stares at him. Dean can see it, in his peripheral. “I’m not asking anything from you.”

“If anyone, it’d be you,” Dean says, desperately, trying to get it out there before he has to see it on Cas’s face when he realizes it isn’t enough. “You know that. You know it would be. But I— it’s broken in me, and you deserve better than—”

“Pull over,” Cas says sharply, and Dean takes them on a right down the first shitty gravel road he sees, switching to park once they hit enough turns off the highway that it feels safe. “Dean.”

“I meant what I said,” Dean says to his steering wheel. And then he looks over at Cas. Blue eyes, he’d call him, if he got to be sweet on him like that. If he could, he’d sing some cheesy song for Cas at an open mic night and kiss his eyelids in the mornings, but that isn’t for Dean Winchester. He doesn’t know how to get from here to there. Dean studies the crook of his mouth and the cleft of his chin and says, “You deserve better than pretend.”

“Were you pretending?” Cas turns in the seat, knees butting up against the gearshift. His voice dips, and Dean watches his throat as he says, “When you prayed to me in Purgatory? When you said— I still think about it, when you said to me that you’d rather have me, cursed or not.” And Cas adds, urgently, “I still think about the way you held me when I left the Empty the first time. I think about the look on your face when you raised me the second time. Was that pretend?”

Dean swallows. The car is, suddenly, too quiet. He wishes they were still driving. In that flat and open Kansan silence he says, like it’s the only word he knows, “Cas—”

“Were you pretending when I kissed you?” Cas slides closer and Dean can’t— his chest is full, full with Cas’s voice, his breath, the imagined slide of his skin. Dean can practically feel his touch and he wants it more than anything. Cas says, like it’s something he says every day, “Were you pretending when I made you come?”

Jesus fuck. “No,” Dean exhales, “no, it— it wasn’t—”

“Then what, exactly, was pretend?”

Dean grips the steering wheel with his sweaty palms, eyes on Cas’s knees because that seems safer than the rest of him. This is completely out of fucking control. His skin prickles with Cas’s nearness. “I. I’m tryin’ to say— I’m tryin’ to say you should cut your losses here, man.”

“You’re my friend.” Cas puts his hand on Dean’s forearm and Dean nods, because yeah, that’s— that’s always gonna be true on his end, no matter how bad they fuck up. “So. I don’t see any loss here.”

“Well then maybe I don’t want you to just settle—”

“What do you want from me, Dean?”

Christ. Everyone keeps asking him that, as if— as if it matters, as if it’ll make a difference. Like they need to cater to Dean even more. “I think we’ve had enough of what I want—”

“I think we haven’t had enough.” Cas’s hand on Dean’s forearm turns gripping, tight, forces Dean to look at him. “Answer me. What do you want?”

Dean breathes, shakily. He can’t. He can’t. He starts shaking his head before he realizes it, can’t even make his mouth form words.

“All right,” Cas says, gentling his grip. He says, smoothly, “Let me— then let me tell you what I want.”

“‘Kay,” Dean whispers, looking at him.

“I want us to talk with each other,” Cas says. “I want to talk with you late into the night. I want to tell you that I love you. I want you to show me your favorite westerns, ten times over. I want to grow vegetables in a garden for Sam’s salads and discuss theology with Eileen in the middle of the night when you’re asleep. I want to kiss you.”

Cas looks at his hand, then, and Dean finally lets go of the fucking steering wheel, lets Cas slide his grip down to Dean’s wrist. He wraps his hand, gentle, around the skin just past the hem of Dean’s shirtsleeve and it— Dean bites his lip, swallows as Cas thumbs the inside of his wrist. “I want to touch you,” Cas murmurs. “I want to do everything we’ve already done, and things we haven’t thought of yet.”

Dean breathes into that silence. He dips his eyes to Cas’s hand when Cas looks up, unprepared to meet his eyes. “That’s,” he tries, and then clears his throat. Louder, he says, “That’s quite a speech, Cas.”

Cas lets him go. Dean flexes his hand and thinks I could let him do that again. And then he thinks — very deliberately — I want him to do that again.

“That’s what I want,” Cas says. “Now, I don’t— I don’t need any of those things. So, Dean. What do you want?”

Dean’s mouth twitches into a nervous smile. “Maybe— maybe I want those things too,” he tries, looking up at Cas. “I dunno. Jeez, I’ve never— I dunno.”

Cas nods. He turns to look out the windshield and says, “When you figure it out—”

“Don’t—” Dean catches Cas’s shoulder, turns him back, and then suddenly can’t let him go. Just keeps his hand there, clenched tight against his shirt. “Just gimme a sec,” he whispers, and meets Cas’s eyes. “Shit, Cas. I want all that too. I dunno if I’ve got— if I can love you the way you, you deserve, but— fuck, Cas, I— I want those things too.” He tries to see if it makes a difference, tries to see a softening in Cas’s mouth, but all he has is his own desperate hope. Still, it’s enough for him to ask: “Is that enough?”

“The way you’re— Dean.” Cas reaches over to his face and Dean’s eyes float down to half mast, Dean’s body leans into it as Cas’s palm cradles his cheek. “What you’re describing? That’s what it feels like.”

Dean’s tongue feels heavy in his mouth. “Being in—” He blinks his eyes open. “In love?”

Cas smiles, fraught, small. Nothing like that beatific smile when the Empty came for him. Careful and real. “I don’t know how else to say it, Dean. Yes. If you want it, then yes. It’s enough.”

“Shit,” Dean says, half-laughing, and then he bowls himself over with his own stupidity. This is what it feels like, idiot, he tells himself, and brings his other hand up to Cas’s chest, holding on tight. “Shit. Shit.”

Cas’s smile slides into shit-eating grin territory. “You need a moment?”

“Shut up. Shut up for one second, asshole,” Dean says, holding him, leaning in until his forehead meets Cas’s chest. Cas’s arm comes up around his shoulder, and Dean would like to think that he’s beyond dumbass romance novel dialogue, but he says: “Don’t let me get in my own way again.” And then, trembling, he adds, “Please,” no shame left in him — he’ll beg on his knees if he has to.

Cas holds him, quietly. Dean inhales, and exhales, breathing in Cas’s smell, feeling his heartbeat. He’s alive. He’s alive.

Eventually, Cas says, “I think… you don’t remember what you said in the Empty, when you came for me.”

Dean pulls back. “No,” he says.

Cas nods. “You said. You said all you— all you wanted was me.” Cas reaches up, thumbs across Dean’s hairline, his temple, palm warm against his cheekbone. “I remember your exact words. You couldn’t know this, but in the Empty, the only thing you can see is— it’s just a void. It’s nothing. And into nothing, to nothing, you said,” and Cas smiles, a little, “‘Cas, you son of a bitch. I’m not leaving without you. There’s nothing for me out there, if you’re here. So come back to me.’”

“Shit,” Dean whispers. It’s true. It’s fucking true. How’d he been braver in the Empty than here, on Earth? “Yeah. Cas, I wasn’t lyin’.”

“I know, Dean,” Cas says. “I remember I thought you were so… so hopeful. You said all those things, not knowing if I could even hear you. If I was even there. And it… brought me back.”


“So,” Cas says, putting his other hand on Dean’s face, holding him there. “I know you want me. And you know I want you. So tell me.” Cas’s face crumples, and Dean has to look away from his eyes, ‘cause he can’t see the hurt he put there. “What did I do wrong?”

“No,” Dean breathes, pulling out of Cas’s hold, “no, no, no, you didn’t— I just— I hadn’t— I hadn’t figured it out, man. I hadn’t.” Dean blinks. Trying to put it into words, he starts, “It’s like. It’s like I don’t— I don’t know how to, to want somethin’ like… like this.” He gestures between them and Cas nods. “Never, uh. Never wanted— or, I dunno, I guess I just had this idea that. ‘Cause ‘most everybody’s still alive and, and we got the big bad, that it’d be. It’d be perfect. An’ it…”

He works it out as he talks, no idea what’ll come out of him ‘til it’s out there. “I kept waiting for it to go sideways, an’ I kept thinking— if you—” Oh, God. “If you see what a mess I am, if you figure out that even— even when it isn’t the end of the world— even when we’re not in fight or flight mode I’m still like this, then you’ll.” He swallows. “Then you’ll go.”

Cas stays very, very quiet. He puts his thumb against Dean’s chin, tilts his head up to meet his eyes. And Cas says, “I promise that I will never choose to leave you.”

Dean nods. “Shit,” he whispers, feeling a tear drip off his chin, and Cas leans forward so he can kiss his wet cheek. Dean cracks a grin. “Shit. Shit. You fuckin’— fuckin’ sap.”

“I suppose,” Cas says, a smile in his voice.

Dean leans in, tilts his forehead against Cas’s, reaches up to touch him, put his hands on his shoulders. “Can you,” Dean asks into the air between them, knowing he can’t, “can you promise you’ll never leave?”

Cas sighs. “I don’t think so, Dean. But I can promise that I’ll fight with all I have to stay with you, as long as you’ll have me.”

“Oh, fuck.” Dean swallows. He leans in closer, slides his cheek against Cas’s, puts his face in the crook of his shoulder. “Okay. Fuck. Yeah. Yeah, sweetheart, that’s— that’s good. That’s good enough for me.” And he thinks about how he’s been these past— these past months, pushing and pulling and putting himself into new and uncomfortable places he didn’t need to be. And what that’d be like, for Cas, not to know what’s real and what isn’t. So he says, “And hey, I’ll— I’ll stay with you, too. As long as.” But he can’t finish it. As long as you want me? Christ, Dean knows the kind of man he is. If Cas stops wanting him he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

“As long as we both shall live,” Cas says quietly, and Dean whips his head back to look at his face.

He’s fucking serious. Good God. Dean, mouth dry, says, “Oh. Okay.” Does he know? “Yeah, Cas. As long as that.”

“And you’ll live long, Dean?” Cas asks seriously.

Dean thinks about it. Even outside of Cas. If Cas went— but he doesn’t have to think about that. He thinks about all the other people in his life. He thinks about Jody and Donna inviting him up to grill burgers in their backyard during the one month a year that Sioux Falls has acceptable summer weather. He thinks about the kid at the gas station in Lebanon who doesn’t know Dean at all, doesn’t even know his name, but knows he’s the guy who’ll lift ice bag deliveries into the freezer when they’re too big for one scrawny seventeen year old.

He thinks about Sam. Sam, writing in his journal, smiling more often than not these days. Eileen switching Dean’s beers out for non-alcoholic ones when he finishes a full six-pack on movie nights and not saying a damn word about it.

And he thinks about that line in his own journal, about growing old. He thinks about putting up a rocking chair and looking out at an August sunset in the plains and not having a damn thing to do.

“I’ll try,” he says hoarsely, thinking about the whole length of his life stretching ahead of him, and Cas with him, at every crossroads. “I— I want to.”

“Good,” Cas says, and he smiles, and he leans in and kisses him, finally, puts his mouth on his and Dean kisses him back. “I love you,” Cas murmurs into his mouth, and kisses him before he has to say it back, and Dean— Dean lets it happen, and Dean smiles into it, and Dean does it quietly, but he does love him, he loves him, he does.

There’s a used bookstore in Lebanon. Dean likes books but he’s never been one to buy ‘em when even a couple bucks could be the difference between mac’n’cheese or crackers for dinner, and it’s not like he’s had time to read these past years. But Cas thought it’d be nice to fill a bookshelf with fun reading, and Dean knows for a fact that Cas’s idea of fun is shit like first editions of Aimé Césaire in the original French, but he tags along anyway.

At the bookstore — which has one wall full of windows letting all the light in, nice and welcoming for the newbies, but becomes a cozy and crowded maze of bookshelves by the time you walk to the back — they’re not exactly handsy, but they’re close. Intimate. It’d be obvious to anyone who cared to pay attention but no one’s in the store except for the person at the front, and Cas heads for the back where they’re out of sight.

They browse through shelves across from each other, bumping hips in the aisle. They don’t say anything, but Dean can feel Cas’s warmth next to him, his breathing. There ain’t a damn thing he’s supposed to do except enjoy it.

“Dean,” Cas says quietly. “I’ve found— I read this book, a few years ago. Would you like me to read you my favorite chapter?”

“Huh?” Dean turns around, and there’s Cas with a dog-eared paperback copy of The Grapes of Wrath. Dean’s always been a Steinbeck fan, but he doesn’t think he’s ever read this one. He’s always stuck to the novellas. Never know when you’ll have to abandon a book— better not to get attached to a long one. “Yeah. Sure.”

So Dean leans carefully against the sturdiest-looking shelf as Cas flips to about two-thirds through the book. “It’s chapter 25,” Cas says, as if that means anything to Dean. In his low voice, his normal talking voice, deep like the ocean, he reads: “‘The spring is beautiful in California. Valleys in which the fruit blossoms are fragrant pink and white waters in a shallow sea. Then the first tendrils of the grapes swelling from the old gnarled vines, cascade down to cover the trunks. The full green hills are round and soft as breasts. And on the level vegetable lands are the mile-long rows of pale green lettuce and the spindly little cauliflowers, the gray-green unearthly artichoke plants.’”

Cas keeps reading. He keeps reading about men of understanding and knowledge, and skill, men who experiment with seed, endlessly developing the techniques for greater crops of plants whose roots will resist the million enemies of the earth: the molds, the insects, the rusts, the blights. And he reads as it turns to rot. My God, we can’t pick them and dry and sulphur them. We can’t pay wages, no matter what wages. And the purple prunes carpet the ground. And first the skins wrinkle a little and swarms of flies come to feast, and the valley is filled with the odor of sweet decay.

And Cas keeps reading, and Dean can see it as if it’s in front of him, men spraying gasoline on rotting mounds of oranges as families out from the Oklahoma dust bowl drive in and see it, see the waste.

Cas concludes: In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Into the heavy muffled silence of that bookstore, Dean looks at Cas. Takes in the tremble of his jawline, the furrow in his brow that smooths out as he stops concentrating on the small text.

“Jesus, Cas,” Dean says eventually, quietly, trying not to break the tone. The waste. The waste. He remembers — not often — but he remembers sometimes dumpster diving to see if he could get anything to eat, since the stale but packaged food from the back of the convenience store that hadn’t seen a full inventory turnover in a decade was for Sam.

And he thinks of Cas’s voice reading it, the history of this country. He remembers how much money meant to him, even when he knew about ghosts and witches and shtrigas and, later, demons and angels. These days dollars and cents don’t mean anything to him at all, but he remembers. He remembers the curl in his belly. He remembers the emergency cash he could never bring himself to spend, not even when Sam whined at him for Cheerios, ‘cause it could always get worse.

“I was given a copy of this book at a— a meeting, when I was human.” When you kicked me out of the bunker, he doesn’t say, generously. Dean nods mechanically. “It resonated.”

“Shit,” Dean says. He can’t fix it— he can’t feed this whole hungry, empty nation, he can’t undo the hurt he did when he put Gadreel in his brother and sent Cas out with nothing, but he can do this. He can make a home. “Shit, Cas. You—” He closes the book in Cas’s hands. “You always have a home with us. I’m never doing that to you again.”

Cas nods. He smiles. He says, “The prose is beautiful, though.”

“Yeah,” Dean says. “You want it?”

Cas turns it over. The price tag says $9.99. “Yes,” he decides, and Dean kisses him there, hands touching over John Steinbeck’s novel in that aisle, out of sight of God and everybody else.

They split up, stay a respectable foot apart when they go to buy their books from the person with MARIA on their nametag at the front desk, and Dean carries the bag back into the Impala.

In the car, Dean doesn’t kick into drive just yet. He asks, “Was that okay? I didn’t—” and he gestures between them. He says, “We didn’t, uh, hold hands or anything.”

Cas smiles. “There’s a difference between hiding your feelings for me and doing what’s comfortable. It doesn’t matter to me whether Maria knows we’re in love or not, although I’m sure I’m terrible at hiding how I feel about you.”

“Okay,” Dean says, trying to take him at his word. “And I’m— I am workin’ on it, y’know.”

“I know.” Cas puts a warm hand on his shoulder. “All I want is— for you to grow into the fullness of yourself. For you to be happy.”

“You just want me to get old and gross, huh,” Dean jokes.

“Unbelievably so.” There’s a laugh in Cas’s voice but Dean knows he’s serious as all hell. “In fact, I want you to live to be a hundred years old. I, of course, am likely to pass away in my late eighties based on the health of this body.”

Dean looks at his hands on the steering wheel. A decade without Cas, if that happens. “I’m,” he says, and it’s too close. “Not really ready to think about that.”

“All right.”

“But I’d. I’d like to grow old with you.” He pauses, and says — and it ain’t the first time now, far from it, but every time it hits him in the solar plexus, “I love you.”

“It’s settled then,” Cas says, and kisses his cheek, and then Dean turns into it and they’re kissing. They’re always making out in his car ‘cause Dean never really grew out of thinking that was the hottest thing, his baby under his thighs and some unparalleled beauty in the seat next to him.

A knock at the window pulls them apart. Maria looks sheepishly at them through the window. Dean rolls it down, and Maria says hesitantly, “Sorry, you guys. But I think you dropped your wallet.” Dean takes Cas’s wallet through the window, and Maria waves goodbye while walking back into the store.

Dean catches Cas’s eye as he hands the wallet over. And then he bursts into laughter. “Fuck,” he snorts, putting his head back against the seat. “So much for the goddamn closet, huh.”

“I suppose we’re… ‘out’ now,” Cas muses, air quotes and everything, and Dean just snorts even harder. “Well. It had to happen sooner or later.”

“Happy coming out day, babe,” Dean says, hysterical but mostly fine, mostly okay with it, and he kisses Cas again just to prove it, before kicking back onto the road, ten miles from the bunker but already at home.

Claire calls him up for a case out in Pennsylvania. “This is Dean,” she says, bluntly, to the gaggle of kids around her at the bar. Or, young adults, Dean figures he oughtta say. Hell, they’re full-on real-ass adults if they’re Claire’s age. Get a grip, Dean.

Dean grimaces a little, waves, tries not to awkwardly duck his head the way Sam does when he meets someone new. Does it anyway, because his brother’s rubbed off on him like shitty gas station receipt ink.

“All right,” Claire says once they all have a round of beers and loosened up a bit. “Tell him what you told me.”

One of them — Maya, she introduced herself as — launches into the whole story, something spooky going bump in the night, and Dean nods in all the right places. Sounds easy, something him and Claire could take care of no problem, once they figure out exactly what it is.

So he doesn’t feel bad about dipping halfway through just to call. Just to check in. He steps out front, past the smokers, and dials.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, and Dean smiles.

“Hey.” He looks down at his feet, kicks the gravel up a bit. “How’s it goin’ back at home base?”

“Haven’t destroyed the kitchen yet.”

“That sounds promising.” Dean glances over his shoulder, where Claire is keeping her witnesses quiet, calm, cooperative. “Claire’s doing pretty all right at this thing, y’know.”

“Hunting?” Dean listens to Cas clanging some pots together. “She’s been hunting for years, Dean.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, s’just.” He shrugs. Looks out into the night. Looks at his car, his home, and thinks — Claire will have four walls on solid legs. Claire will have the high of a good hunt followed by a home cooked meal out of Jody’s kitchen, and when she gets bored of that, she’ll have the research library at the bunker.

“I’m proud of her too,” Cas says quietly, and Dean huffs out a laugh. He always fucking knows.

Dean turns around and sees Claire coming out of the bar. “Claire’s comin’ back, I gotta go.”

“Stay safe.” Cas breathes, and then says, “I love you.”

Dean looks at Claire, who figured it out before anyone else, before Dean, even. Who said to him, You can have it. “Yeah,” he replies, “love you too,” and only stumbles over the words a little bit.

He hangs up just as Claire gets to him. “Hey. How’s it going with the witnesses?”

“I think we have a ghoul on our hands.” Claire shudders extravagantly. “Gross.”

“Damn.” Dean slides his phone into his pocket. “Well, all right, let’s hit the graveyards.”

“Sure. Just a sec. Just—” Claire tilts her head at him, and looks— fuck, she looks so much like him. Dean lets her study him, lets her look for something on his face. Finally, she says, “You and Cas.”

“Same old,” Dean says, because as far as she knows they’ve had their shit together since Cas got out of the Empty.

“Uh huh.” She shakes her head. “I dunno. I just— anyway. Good for you guys.”


“I mean it.” Dean watches Claire kick up a little gravel. Oh, she’s just the same as him, isn’t she. “I feel like, with hunters, y’know, you never— never see anybody make it past thirty.”

“What the hell is Jody, chopped liver?”

Claire’s mouth flattens. “An exception.”

Dean exhales. Yeah. He— yeah, he knows that. “Lotta good people didn’t make it as far as I did.”

“I know. I was there.” Claire blinks furiously at the gravel beyond their feet, and Dean shrinks, cowed. Easy for him to forget what happened to Claire’s family. What they did to Claire’s family.

And then Claire — who’s generous, too, more generous than she ought to be — says, “But you made it. And I’m saying, you’re old now, and you figured out what you wanted, and you get to have it for as long as you want it. So. Good for you.”

“It is good, isn’t it,” Dean says incredulously. They figured it out. Took ‘em twelve years, but they figured it out. He bumps Claire’s shoulder. One day there’ll be a new crop of hunters, even younger than she is, and Dean’ll be like some old grandpa, telling war stories and feeding them up good. It feels good under his skin, all these things that could happen in the future, with all the people he loves. Warm with it, he says, “Thanks, kid,” and even he can hear the joy in it.

The earth doesn’t crumble under his feet. The stars stay in the sky, and nothing ends at all. And Dean Winchester is happy.