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There's Only One Sure Thing That I Know

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May 2nd (0 Days)

Dean, like an idiot, never bothered to get a new cell phone when he stopped hunting. The one in his pocket still has the same number, the same annoying ring, the same cracked screen and missing buttons that it did when he drove from Lawrence to Cicero six months ago. Now though, when it rings, it's almost always Ben asking for a ride or Lisa asking him to pick up something from the store. It's been a long time since Dean's gotten a call from Bobby or some sick fuck monster pretending to be Dad.

The phone starts making its God-awful little chirp while he's crammed under the Impala checking the brake line, and he picks it up on the first ring without looking. "Hey, kiddo," he says, "you done with practice?"

Dean's expecting to hear Ben asking him they can stop off for pizza and not tell Lisa just this once (again). Instead he hears a familiar voice on the other end saying, "No, Dean. I have not been practicing, nor do I appreciate being called... kiddo."

Dean feels like he's been punched in the stomach.

"Holy shit, Cas," he says, slightly breathless. "Where the hell have you been?"

Unsurprisingly, Castiel ignores the question Dean actually did ask and answers one he didn't, saying, "I am currently in Pennsylvania. I require assistance."

"What the fuck is going on that you need my assistance?" Dean asks. "I thought you finally got your wings, Clarence."

"I do not understand that reference," Castiel says, and Dean can totally hear his confused scowl over the phone. The mental picture makes Dean laugh, which he knows is just making Castiel scowl more.

It turns out that what's going on are some demonic omens, the kind that used to happen when the Judeo-Christian apocalypse was still on the menu, but have been conspicuously absent since. According to Castiel, it looks like Pittsburgh is about to be attacked by a real, live plague of locusts.

"What do you want me to do about it?" Dean asks, voice flat.

He expects Castiel to say something about God, something about obligation, something about a divine plan or some other celestial bullshit. Dean has an answer all lined up for that. What Dean doesn't expect is the quiet, slightly defeated way that Castiel says, "Please come."

"Fuck," Dean mutters under his breath.

"I'll be there in six hours," he says.

The most useful thing that Dean keeps in the Impala isn't a shotgun or holy water, it's a leather-bound U.S. atlas that lives wedged underneath the passenger seat. Within 5 minutes of hanging up on Castiel, Dean has it spread open on the hood, a route from Indiana to Pennsylvania already half formed in his mind.

The sun is just starting to set when Lisa finds him standing in the driveway, staring at a cut-out of Pittsburgh.

"That look never means anything good," she says, and hands him a glass of iced tea.

Lisa knows about most of Dean's past, though he's left out a lot of the details about Hell. He had thought that with everything that almost happened to Ben, with how scared she'd been then, that she wouldn't want to hear anything about his old life. But she'd asked and kept asking until he'd finally lashed out at her with the worst thing he could think of, a particularly blood-soaked horror story about being in the pit.

After he'd finished, she'd said, "Look. I don't pretend like I understand what's happened to you, what you've done, what's been done to you. But I want you to know that when I hear it, it's just a story. A story that ends with you saving the world and living happily ever after in Indiana. I don't want you to feel like you have to hold back with me if you want to say something." And when he'd finished processing all that she'd said, "Now do the damn dishes."

He hadn't shied away from telling her anything after that.

"Castiel needs my help," Dean says.

Lisa knows enough now that he doesn't have to explain to her who Castiel is, what Castiel is. Instead, she asks, "Do you want sandwiches for the road? We've got roast beef." It makes Dean feel overwhelmingly grateful, and for a second he can't quite make himself look her in the eye.

"Thanks," he grits out eventually, and takes a long sip of the iced tea, which is way too sweet, but he'll go to his grave again without ever telling her that.

"Right back," she says, kisses him on the cheek, and darts into the house.

For a second Dean thinks about slipping behind the wheel and peeling out without saying goodbye, without telling her where he's going. It's a familiar urge, one he fights down two, three times a week. Every time, it's Sam's voice in his head telling him to have barbecues and go to football games that stops him.

Lisa comes back from the house with a bag of food and a thermos of too-sweet tea. She kisses him and brushes his hair back off his forehead and says, "I'll think of something to tell Ben." Dean waits until she's back inside the house to get in the car and start the engine.

Dean says, "I'm sorry, Sam," and drives away from his normal, apple-pie life towards the unknown.

He's headed towards Pennsylvania on I-70, just passed the turn-off where state highway 35 splits off South towards Eaton, when Castiel calls and says, "I seem to be incapable of leaving Ohio."

Dean jerks the car onto the next exit ramp, barrels across the overpass at breakneck speed, and swerves back onto 70 headed West. He guns it the 10 miles it takes him to reach the border and the "Welcome To Indiana: Crossroads Of America" sign, only to find himself inexplicably back where he started, just past the exit to Eaton, Ohio.

"Fuck," Dean says, hitting the steering wheel with the palms of both hands.

"Yes," Castiel says from the passenger seat.

"Fuck!" Dean yells and nearly swerves off the highway. "I thought we didn't do that anymore!"

Castiel turns his head away from the windshield to look at Dean oddly. "We made no such agreement. Turn off here."

Dean takes the next exit, which happens to be the same God damn exit he took the first time. Castiel directs him back towards the border on a different road, pulling off into a parking lot that crosses the state line.

Dean says, "Fuck this noise, I'll go on foot." He gets out of the car.

Castiel doesn't come with him, just watches from the passenger seat of the Impala.

The farther Dean walks West, the harder it becomes for him to think clearly and the more he has to fight the urge to turn around. He doesn't seem to be winning that fight, though, and five times in a row he finds himself headed East without any clear memory as to how he got there.

In the end, he gives up, grabs a bottle of whiskey out of the trunk, and heaves himself up onto the hood to watch the passing traffic. Castiel eventually joins him, the car only settling down slightly on its wheels when he sits down.

"Hey," Dean says, "You're bleeding." Dean points with the hand that's not clutching the whiskey at a small, unhealed cut on Castiel's face.

Castiel touches his fingers lightly to the cut, his fingertips coming away bloodied. "So I am," he says. His hand passes over the cut and it disappears, leaving Castiel's face as unlined, unmarked, and unshaven as it usually is.

"What the hell is going on, Cas?" Dean asks, after watching what has to be the 50th set of tail lights in a row successfully exiting Ohio.

"I do not know," Castiel says, "I have never encountered a spell such as this, before. I am not even certain this is a spell, though that seems most likely."

"Good to know," Dean says, "I assume you tried the trick with the border already?"

"I was flying at the time. The impact was," Castiel pauses, "Painful."

"Sucks to be you," Dean says, and hands Castiel the bottle, which he takes and finishes in one inordinately long pull. Dean forgets, sometimes, that Castiel doesn't actually have to breathe.

"I am incapable of leaving the state of Ohio. Which means that I am physically bound to this realm for the time being," Castiel says, which is news to Dean. Guess Heaven will be sans Sherriff for the time being; hope Castiel appointed a deputy. "As you also seem to be similarly affected, I had thought that we should stick together."

Dean nods. "What the hell happened in Pennsylvania?" he asks.

"I determined that what I believed were biblical omens in Pennsylvania were in fact a diversion meant to lure you to Ohio." Castiel says, "I came to this place with the hope of discovering what the trap was before your arrival, but I was too late. Obviously."

"Sucks to be me," Dean says.

Castiel nods, "Yes."

Dean takes the bottle from Castiel's hand, stands up and throws it as hard as he can towards the edge of the parking lot. The sound of it shattering echoes back from Indiana.

"Well," Dean says, "No use standing around here with our thumbs up our asses." Castiel looks slightly confused at that one, but he nods, and effortlessly slides off the hood.

"Where would you like to go?" Castiel asks.

Dean pushes down his immediate response, which is out of fucking Ohio, and says instead, "I have no God damn clue." Dean has mixed good and bad memories of Athens, and universally shitty ones of Toledo, Milan, Springfield and Elizabethville. "Somewhere I haven't been before."

Castiel nods, solemn, like Dean is being profound instead of being a whiny bitch.

Dean is hit by a sudden, disorienting memory of Heaven. "And definitely not Cleveland," he says.

They take 75 South into Dayton, pulling off at a motel when Dean's eyes start to lose their ability to focus. Dean checks in while Castiel waits in the car, getting a double out of habit before remembering that Castiel doesn't sleep.

The room looks like it hasn't been remodeled since 1973, complete with good ole fashioned shag carpeting and avocado-colored appliances.

"No place like home," Dean says, and tosses his duffle bag on the bed closest to the door. He half expects Castiel to say something like, This is not your home, or I do not understand human disregard for cleanliness, but instead he only nods and locks the door behind him.

Dean takes a shower, eats a roast beef sandwich, and after watching five minutes of a painfully unfunny Leno monologue, mans up and calls Bobby.

Dean doesn't even get halfway through explaining before Bobby starts laughing. When he lets himself think about it for more than five seconds, Dean can almost see Bobby's point: he's faced down demons, witches, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, angels, and Satan himself and now he's been defeated by the God damn Midwest.

"Hey," Bobby says, "It could be worse."

"How in God's name could it be worse?" Dean asks.

Bobby growls, "You could be in North Dakota," and hangs up. Dean tries not to feel insulted.

May 5th (3 Days)

Dean is starting to wish they'd never introduced Castiel to the internet.

They've been camped out in the motel room for two solid days, there's nothing on the TV except for infomercials (and not even the kind with the hot women in spandex), and Castiel is hogging the laptop.

"So," Dean says, knowing as he does that he sounds bored and petulant, "Why Ohio?"

Castiel doesn't look up from where he's scowling at the screen and typing at something like 60 words an hour. Dean fishes a bag of pistachios out of his duffle and starts throwing them, one at a time, at the back of Castiel's head.

"Stop that," Castiel says, turning around and glaring. "I do not know. What I have determined from the internet is that there is nothing that makes Ohio particularly interesting."

Dean snorts. "I could have told you that."

"I have also found no evidence of recent major supernatural activity," Castiel says, crankiness creeping in under his usual calm. "Nor have there been reports of anyone other than ourselves being unable to leave the state."

"Hallelujah for them," Dean says.

Castiel sighs, says, "I thought we had talked about the blasphemy."

Dean throws another nut. "You thought wrong."

Castiel catches the pistachio out of the air before it lands, looks thoughtfully at it and then at Dean. "I do not know many spells of confinement that would work on humans." He says. "Nor do I know of any that would contain someone within a political boundary."

"So it's not the trapped thing that's bothering you, is it?" Dean asks. "It's totally the Ohio thing."

Castiel sort of half nods. From where Dean's sitting, it's as good as a hell yes.

"The majority of spells work by physical proximity, or by delimiting a space using a material, such as holy oil. State borders, as drawn on maps, are mostly arbitrary and hold little to no magical power." Castiel turns around the laptop to show Dean the four or five different maps of Ohio he's pulled off various websites. Magnified to about 1000% the way they are, it's easy to see that there's a least a mile on either side of the border where no one can decide if it's owned by Ohio or Indiana. Dean's been over that ground more than once, and he figures if they haven't decided yet, it's because no one really wants it.

"So you're saying that it's stupid, arbitrary, and no one knows how it's being done? If I didn't know for a fact that little shit was dead, I'd say this has the Trickster all over it." Dean says.

"It is not a good sign when our one and only suspect has been deceased for eight months," Castiel says, the corner of his lip quirking up into something near a smile. It's nice to know that even with as long as he's being hanging out with the dicks upstairs, he hasn't lost what little sense of humor he had.

The first thing Lisa says when he calls her is, "What do you mean stuck?" The second is, "I'm coming to get you."

"Jesus Christ," Dean says. "No." He doesn't think about how bad that sounds until he hears her shocked inhalation of breath.

She says, "What? Dean you can't mean that. I can't leave you there alone!"

Dean says, "I'm not alone," before thinking it through. "Castiel is here with me. Well, not right now, he's getting food." Not that he actually knows if Castiel's sticking around. He'd left earlier, saying that he needed to talk to someone, and Dean had shouted get burgers on your way back at him before he'd vanished. He'd thought he'd seen Castiel nod.

Lisa sounds frustrated when she says, "Well, I just don't know what to do. If I stay here, I'm going to feel so useless. I can't help but think that if I could just come out there and see you, then we could figure this all out."

"You can't come here." Dean says, "I can't risk you getting trapped here, too. Who would take care of Ben if that happened? And I still don't know what's going on here, it could be dangerous."

"But it's just Ohio," she says. "I can handle Ohio."

Dean laughs, "Oh I know you can." He can tell she's smiling, he can almost hear it, that oh Dean smile she saves for when he's trying to be charming. Beyond that, he can hear the buzz of the radio in the kitchen, the chirp of cicadas in the back yard, the boring, forgettable sounds of suburban Indiana.

The door to the motel room opens, and Castiel walks in holding a brown, grease-stained bag.

"I have to go," Dean says. "I'll call you tomorrow night."

May 12th (10 Days)

They've been doing nothing but wasting time on some exceptionally vague leads, doing some pretty half-assed internet searches, and eating increasingly terrible take out for about a week before Dean decides he's had enough.

Castiel is talking to Bobby on the phone about the fake demonic omens he saw in Pittsburgh when Dean hijacks his cell phone to say, "Find me something I can kill, Bobby. A ghost, a demon, a fucking shape shifter, I don't care as long as it's in Ohio."

Dean can hear Bobby muttering, "Idjit," as Castiel glares at him and jerks the phone back, but Bobby calls two hours later about a string of weird disappearances in a small suburb just South of Youngstown.

Dean walks out to the parking lot to take inventory: he counts his stash of rock salt rounds, checks the barrel of his sawed-off, and is about to close the trunk when Castiel stops him with a hand on his arm.

"Why are you doing this?" He asks, voice flat in a way Dean hasn't heard in a long time.

Dean shrugs, feeling Castiel's hand slip down his arm with the movement. "In case you haven't noticed, Ohio is pretty damn boring," he says.

Castiel says, "An unknown force is keeping you here against your will for a purpose we still have not determined. And yet you insist on running toward yet another unknown danger, because you are bored? This is not what Sam wanted. He asked me to take care of you."

"I'm not good at waiting around for the bad guys to kill me, Cas." Dean says, shaking off Castiel's hand and slamming the trunk shut. "I like it a lot better when I'm the one killing them."

Dean gets in the Impala and locks the doors as Castiel reaches for the handle. He drives out of the parking lot heading North, Castiel getting smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. Dean drives East for half an hour in a righteous fury, cranking up the volume on AC/DC and flooring it. The tape runs out around when Dean's resolve starts to waver, and he drives on for a few minutes in silence, feeling like a douche. He half-forms the thought, I should go back, when he feels a rush of air against his face.

"You forgot to lock the door to the motel room," Castiel says, and Dean nearly swerves into oncoming traffic.

"Ok," Dean shouts, "New rule! We are not doing that anymore!"

"I have agreed to no such thing," Castiel says. "You are not leaving without me."

"That's it," Dean mutters to himself, "I'm getting you a bell."

The string of strange disappearances turns out to be a string of violent, ugly murders as perpetrated by the vengeful spirit of Randolph Jessup, grudge holding former Boardman Senior High School vice principal. It's clear within four hours of arrival that it's a salt-and-burn kind of job, but since nothing can ever be that easy, the guy's buried under the football field.

Dean and Castiel kill the hours between 8:30 at night and ass o'clock in the morning playing I Never in the high school parking lot.

"I've never flown," Dean says. Castiel downs an entire Corona.

"I've never given a blowjob." Castiel says, completely straight faced. This is one of those moments where Dean is really pissed off that he can read minds.

"Oh, fuck you," Dean says, and downs half the bottle he's holding, making sure to lick around the rim on his way down.

Eventually, the sky darkens enough to hide them almost completely.

"Alright," Dean says, clapping his hands together. "Let's dig up some bodies!"

"There," Castiel says, pointing halfway up the 15 yard line.

Dean turns, looks, doesn't see a single blade of grass out of place. "If you say so," he says.

"Hey, you want-" Dean starts, cut off by the weird flapping noise that means that Castiel has left the God damn building. "Great."

Dean's shovel is just hitting pine when he hears a sound like the whirr of a mechanical pencil sharpener and looks up just in time to see Vice Principal Jessup reaching for him.

It's not the first time Dean's been hauled out of a grave by a vengeful spirit, but it's the first time in at least six months. He'd forgotten how much it frickin' hurts.

"I am very disappointed by your behavior." Jessup says, "I expect all my students to live up to our five pillars of citizenship. I'm afraid it's detention for you, young man."

"Christ," Dean wheezes, "Who writes your dialog? Stephanie Meyer?"

"I'm a firm believer in discipline," Jessup says, and shoves his hand through Dean's chest. If Dean's shouts of pain are louder than usual, it's just because he's out of practice.

And then, like a, damn, like an avenging angel, Castiel appears behind Jessup. He lays a hand on Jessup's shoulder, and burns him out of existence in about half a second.

Dean falls back into the half-exhumed grave with a heavy thud.

"Where the fuck have you been?" He pants, crawling to his feet. "I don't have a get out of dead free card anymore."

"A man was attempting to assault a woman in the parking lot, I could hear her praying for help," Castiel says. "I stopped him." There's an oddly intense look in Castiel's eyes, and Dean decides against asking how, exactly, the man was stopped.

"And here I thought you were my guardian angel," Dean says. Castiel shakes his head.

"Do you understand now my reluctance to let you do this on your own?" Castiel asks, casting Dean a significant look. Dean wouldn't have believed it, but Castiel's righteous fury is even scarier from six feet under.

"Sure," Dean coughs, lungs full of dust.

Dean grabs his shovel and clears the last of the dirt off the wooden coffin, uses the sharp point of the shovel to break open the top. Castiel hauls him easily out of the grave. Unfortunately, his angel-mojo doesn't cover actually salting and burning the bones, but hell, that's the fun part anyway.

After they stumble back to the car, the warm, trapped air in the Impala smells like graveyard dirt and smoke. For a while they just sit silently, staring out the windshield, no fucking clue what to do next. Dean turns the key in the ignition just to have something to do with his hands, no clear destination in mind.

He drives West for a couple of miles, changing lanes and passing cars on auto-pilot. Around mile marker 131, Castiel turns to him and says, "I had thought, when you chose to heed Sam's wishes and go to Indiana, that you had outgrown your childish desire to hurt yourself and those around you. I see now that I was wrong."

Dean glances over at the passenger seat, only to find it empty.

Four hours later he pulls into the parking lot of the Royal Motel and Cocktail Lounge, picturing what's waiting for him inside: two empty beds, a pathetic excuse for a kitchenette, a bathroom that hasn't been cleaned since the Reagan administration, and a TV that's lost its grip on the color yellow. His shoulder twinges when he opens the car door, and his left knee almost gives out when he tries to put his weight on it. This is no way to live, he thinks, even though it's how he's spent nearly his entire adult life.

"Jesus," Dean says, "I need to grow the fuck up."

When Dean walks into the motel room, he finds Castiel perched in his usual spot, staring intently at the laptop. If he heard Dean through the door, he doesn't show it.

May 18th (16 Days)

Four job interviews in and Dean is starting to really realize that he has no references besides Bobby, no skills, and that he has never actually held down any kind of real employment, ever. The one thing he's pretty much qualified to be is FBI agent, but that's because he's had the kind of hands-on experience with the Bureau that rules out that career path forever.

"Um," Dean says, and shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "I guess you could say that a weakness of mine is that sometimes I can get too involved in the job."

Rebecca Miles, proprietor of Therapy Café, raises an eyebrow at that one. She makes a note on the legal pad balanced on her knee, probably something about how much of a complete tool he is.

"Alright, Dean," she says, "Tell me why you're the right person for this job."

Dean's palms are sweating and he knows he's giving off ex-con-esque just give me one more chance kind of vibes, but hell, the bar is called Therapy Café, they should be prepared for a few crazies.

When Dean had told Castiel about his intention to get a job, Castiel had insisted on holding a practice interview with questions he'd found on the internet. When Castiel had said, "Tell me why you deserve this opportunity,"Dean hadn't had a good answer. Castiel had looked disappointed and sad, resigned like he'd been when they first met.

Still, Dean could write a novel on fake it 'til you make it, so he draws on confidence he absolutely does not have and smirks. "Because," he says, putting as much leer into his voice as he can, "Women come to this bar."

Ten minutes later, Dean walks out the door with instructions to return the following night and a black t-shirt that says You Deserve Therapy in white letters across the front.

May 19th (19 Days)

Lisa picks up right before it goes to voicemail, and says, "Shit! Oh, wait, I mean, hi Dean. Sorry, I dropped the phone in the trash."

Dean really, really wants to ask how the hell did you do that? but instead opens with, "So, I got a job."

She gasps, shocked. Dean would feel more insulted about that if he hadn't totally been mooching off of her for the last six months. "You're messing with me," she says.

"Not at all," Dean says. "You're talking to Therapy Café's newest bar back." He'd been hoping to go straight to bartending, but they wanted things things that Dean didn't have, like experience and applicable knowledge. This way, he has to wash a fuck-ton of beer glasses, but he at least he gets a share of the tips.

"Whoa," Lisa says, probably too stunned to work her way up to complete sentences.

"I know, right," Dean says, "Worst name ever." It's probably one of those stupid little jokes, like naming a bar The Bank so your clientele can say things like, I'm just running to The Bank, to make themselves feel clever.

"Oh not even, I used to wait tables at a place called Big Dick's Halfway Inn. You don't ever want to put something like that on your resume." Lisa says, laughing. "I'm just floored that you're becoming a productive member of society. I mean, you spend all that time as a lump on my couch, and now you're going legit?"

"It's Ohio," Dean says. "It's warped me."

"I'll say," Lisa says. "So you're stopped hunting, stopped sulking, and you've got a real job. What's next? Cold fusion? World peace?"

"Did you know that the Ohio state motto is, With God, all things are possible?" Castiel looks over at Dean from where he's watching reality TV, and raises his eyebrow at that one.

"You are so full of shit, Dean Winchester," Lisa says.

"Just ask Wikipedia, man," Dean says. "The internet never lies."

It freaks Dean out how easy it is to fall into a routine.

He wakes up around noon, eats some cereal, argues for an hour with Castiel or Bobby or Castiel and Bobby about whatever dumbass theory they've come up with that day. Castiel usually storms out at some point, but he always comes back with food.

From what Dean can tell, Castiel's been working his way through every nondescript burger joint in the entire state. Three weeks in and Dean's pretty sure could write a God-damn guidebook to the best fries in Ohio. He's getting a little bit sick of the diner food diet, and he's started putting on enough weight that joining a gym seems worth the money.

So Dean eats lunch with Castiel, goes to work out for an hour, and then calls Lisa.

"You don't have to call every day," she says.

"Yes I do, it says so right here in the manual," Dean says, which at least earns him a laugh.

After that he either communes with daytime television or he wastes a quarter tank of gas driving to the Indiana border and back. It's more and more depressing each time he does it, and he's getting fucking sick of the landscape, so it tapers off from once a day to once a week within the first month.

"Still stuck," he tells Lisa, every single day.

Dean gets Thursday nights off, so he and Castiel switch off choosing what to do. Dean always picks dive bars with cheap whiskey, and Castiel likes to go to places that serve sangria and hors' d'oeuvres. Dean always orders the least girly thing on the menu, but he usually ends up drinking half of Castiel's concoction, too.

Dean gets paid on the first and fifteenth of the month and deposits the check into his real, grown-up bank account. Since he still lives like a refugee, the numbers in his account go up fairly steadily. He puts half of each paycheck away in savings, even though the rational part of his brain asks him what he thinks he's saving for. Even if he does fuck-all with the money, Dean like logging into his credit union's website and watching the numbers getting bigger. The hunting lifestyle does not usually come with a positive balance.

Actually doing a day's work, instead of just hustling pool or living off of scammed credit cards, is new and different and sucks in new and different ways. Dean's back hurts when he gets off his shift at night, and when customers are being douchebags you can't just shoot them in the face with rock salt to make them go away.

Half of the time he leaves work at the end of the night promising himself he won't come back. He goes in the next day mostly because he's tired of living like a crazy person, moving from a crappy motel room in one city to a crappier motel room in a different one every week.

He gets the urge to hunt every once in a while, but he's starting to understand that he can't keep recklessly throwing himself towards danger. He promised Sam, and even beyond what he'd said before Detroit, there's the way Castiel looked at him when they'd torched Vice Principle Jessup in Boardman. Dean would crawl over broken glass if it meant he didn't have to get that look from Castiel, ever again.

June 23rd (52 Days)

More often than not Dean's shifts synch up with a bartender named Savira.

Savira has black hair and long legs and mixes up a margarita that makes you so drunk you can still feel it two days later. Dean had thought when he'd first started working at the bar
that she had a thing for him. This held up until their second shift together, when she told him that her boyfriend's in the Air Force, and put on 15 pounds of muscle while he was deployed to Iraq. She'd also mentioned that she was taking self-defense classes. She had offered to demo some moves on Dean, and he'd backed off pretty damn quickly after that.

Wednesday nights are typically pretty quiet, but tonight they've got a DJ in from Cincinnati that has drawn in some new people. They're also in the thick of wedding season, and Dean has counted no fewer than three bachelorette parties.

"Who," Savira says, pouring out tequila shots while Dean cuts up limes. "Is that totally cute dude in the corner? Not that I'm looking. He's just been staring at you for like, 10 minutes."

"Jesus Christ," Dean mutters under his breath. Castiel is standing in the corner, almost hidden behind a pillar, staring at Dean and looking creepy as hell. The trench coat is really not helping the stalker chic vibe he's got going. "That would be Cas. I swear, man, we talked about the staring thing."

"That's Cas?" She whistles low under her breath, which Dean is fairly sure is inappropriate behavior towards an angel of the Lord. Not that she's looking.

"Yeah," he says, "What of it."

"Nothing." She says. "It's just the way you described him, I don't know, I thought he'd look different." Dean wasn't aware that he'd described Castiel to his coworkers, ever.

"What does that mean?" Dean asks.

"Oh, I don't know. Nothing." Savira says, looking shifty as fuck.

Castiel finally walks up and sits on one of the stools, his wrists resting on the bar with his forearms at perfect 90 degree angles away from his sides. "Dean," he says. "I was hoping to speak with you."

"Hey man," Dean says, "I'm working."

"I am aware of that. It's a matter of some urgency." Castiel says, sounding quietly panicked. "The toilet in the motel room started to back up. I did not know what to do."

Savira looks at Castiel like he's lost it and says, "Dude, use the plunger."

"The plunger?" Castiel asks, looking at Savira as though she's speaking one of the three languages he doesn't.

Savira walks away with the tray of shots, shaking her head and muttering, "Boys," under her breath.

Dean has seen Castiel face down the legions of hell without batting an eyelash, but the toilet in the motel room seems to have him actually freaked out. "Hey, just talk to the dude at the front desk. Tell him to call the maintenance guy and have us moved into a room that doesn't smell like sewage, ok?"

"Alright, I will do that." Castiel says, relief pouring into his voice.

"You couldn't have just called?" Dean asks.

"I wanted to see your place of business. It's... nice." Castiel looks around the room, eyes catching on at least three different ambiguously gendered couples making out in dimly lit booths.

"Which is totally your polite way of saying it's a den of iniquity, I know." Dean says. Castiel doesn't nod or anything, but Dean can totally tell that's what he's thinking.

Castiel stands. "Alright. I will see you back at the motel, then," Castiel says and walks out.

Savira comes back carrying 10 empty shot glasses and wearing a feather boa.

"Don't ask," She says. "What was up with your boyfriend just now?"

"What?" Dean asks, because, what? Boyfriend?

"He was totally acting like he'd never seen a toilet before," Savira says. "Is he from, like, some sort of third world country? Dude, is he like, your mail order bride?"

"What? Fuck no!" Dean shouts.

"Whoa, touchy," She says. And then, "Wait. You two live in a motel? Why the hell would you do that?"

"You know what," Dean says, "That's a very good question."

June 24th (53 Days)

The next day, Dean signs a lease on a furnished, second-story walkup three miles from work.

"Oh, we're so glad you chose to become part of our family," says Pamela, a member of the suffocatingly sincere front office staff. Dean is kind of proud of himself that he only flinches slightly when she reaches out to hand him the keys.

Moving in consists of grabbing Dean's duffle bag out of the back of the Impala and bringing it into the apartment. When that's done it becomes clear that between the two of them, they own next to nothing.

Castiel walks into and then out of the bathroom, quietly laughing to himself. "If my understanding of human physiology is correct," Castiel says with a kind of sideways tilt to his mouth, "You are going to need to purchase toilet paper." It takes Dean like 30 seconds to realize that this is Castiel's idea of a joke.

"Aw, hell," Dean says.

Dean runs to Wal-Mart to buy the things that it's immediately obvious they need, like sheets and paper towels and hand soap. He isn't home again for 10 minutes before he realizes they actually need way more than he'd bargained on.

Castiel comes with when Dean heads back to the store, because when he'd asked, Dean had stupidly thought, what could it hurt?

"A toothbrush holder," Dean says, incredulous at the white porcelain object in Castiel's hand. He would ask, what the hell are you on? except that Dean has totally seen Castiel buy Martha Stewart Living and Good Housekeeping and O at the check-out line in the grocery store. At the time, he'd thought it that all the super-white linens and shit had reminded Castiel of Heaven, and that it had just been some really weird form of homesickness. "We can't use a cup?"

Castiel puts the toothbrush holder down and sulks his way into the next isle.

"We need a shower curtain. And a rug." Castiel says. He grabs a red shag monstrosity off a low shelf and pulls something equally hideous, orange, and vinyl off a rack. "Do these match?"

"Good God, no." Dean says. Castiel frowns, though Dean isn't sure if it's because of the blasphemy or if it's because Dean obviously doesn't understand his design aesthetic. "Why can't everything just be blue? Or, like, how about this one? It has seashells on it. People always have seashells and shit in their bathrooms."

"Philistine," Castiel mutters, under his breath.

They compromise and get green.

"So," Dean says. "I got an apartment."

"You've given up, haven't you." Lisa says, sounding defeated. Which is the obvious way to look at it, and Dean doesn't know why he didn't really think of it like that.

"Hey, no," Dean says, "It's only a month-to-month lease, it's not permanent. I'm just sick of living like a roadie, you know? I'm not 19 anymore, living on the road doesn't sound as glamorous as it used to. I mean, how many times can you come home to a shitty motel room before you just lose it completely?"

Dean has had to learn how to do the whole talking on the phone thing. Before getting stuck across state lines from his girlfriend, the longest conversations Dean had over the phone had been about demonic omens and fucked-up witchcraft.

Besides learning phone etiquette he never picked up like a normal human being, like how to not constantly talk over each other and everything else, Dean has also had to learn how to talk to Lisa. When he was living in Cicero, they didn't really spend a lot of time talking about stuff that didn't involve the day-to-day workings of living together, like, are you going to pick up Ben? What do you want for dinner? They didn't really do a lot of the how was your day, honey stuff.

"Yeah, you're right." Lisa says, but she doesn't sound happy. Lately, she's been sounding really distracted and tired when he's called.

"Well," Dean says, trying for lively and missing it by a mile and a half. "That's pretty much what I did today. How are you holding up?"

Lisa says, "Oh, fine," in that wistful tone that women use when they're not fine at all.

Dean is about to utter the dreaded phrase, what's wrong? when she blurts out, "No, wait, that's a complete lie." She then launches into an involved story about the new girl that was just hired on at the yoga studio.

Lisa's work stories are like dispatches from an ongoing soap opera with a cast of 20-something, exceptionally flexible women. They're pretty much the best things ever.

"And, ugh, and then can you believe it, she totally went back to that jerk," she finishes, 10 minutes later.

"Man," Dean says. "That sounds rough."

"No joke." Lisa says, and then, "Oh, hey, Ben was asking about you today. He was wondering if you were gonna come home before football season starts."

Dean is sick of saying I don't know. He's sick of saying I'm sure Bobby and Cas will figure something out. He's sick of saying, What's the weather like there?

"I will try my hardest to be there," Dean says, sounding spineless and pathetic to his own ears, "But it's really..."

"Out of your control," Lisa finishes for him. "Yeah, I know. It's just hard to believe that Dean Winchester, savior of the human race, can't drive 40 miles down I-70 without getting his ass kicked. And you're with an angel! Can't he just, you know, smite his way through?"

"It doesn’t work that way," Dean says, shaking his head even though he knows she can't see it.

"Oh, I know," Lisa says. "I just like saying smite."

July 1st (60 Days)

Dean has the night off, and it's Castiel's turn to choose, so they're in a trendy downtown wine bar - thankfully one that also serves beer. Halfway into his second Red Stripe, Dean makes the mistake of getting up to go the bathroom, and by the time he comes back, a 30-something brunette with expensive highlights has slid onto the empty bar stool next to Castiel.

Castiel is always getting hit on in bars.

Anytime they go out, Castiel becomes a car-battery-charged electromagnet for desperate women and sexually adventurous men. Dean doesn't completely understand what the draw is, but he figures if he could bottle and sell it, they'd never have to work another day in their lives.

Dean usually gets picked up on by cocktail waitresses with tramp stamps and retail workers with tongue piercings; Castiel gets propositioned by gorgeous divorcees who offer him investment advice. Dean's still not sure who's getting the better end of that one.

The brunette orders a glass of wine from the bartender, and then casually swivels on her stool to lean in and strike up a conversation. She says, "My name's Karen," and extends a well manicured hand towards Castiel, who just looks at it until she takes it back.

Karen, undeterred, looks Castiel up and down, takes in the corporate casual and says, "So, what do you do for a living?"

What do you do for a living? is one of the all-time greats in Dean's pantheon of crappy angel pick-up lines along with, You from around here? and, Where have you been all my life? because, despite Dean's best coaching, Castiel still hasn't gotten a good handle on how this whole human interaction thing
works. ("You want me to be untruthful," he'd said, looking at Dean like Dean wanted him to smite kittens just for kicks. Dean had tried to add the condition, "Only when the truth will freak people the fuck out," but even that hadn't stuck.)

Castiel says, like always, "I am an Angel of the Lord." If asked directly, Castiel still wouldn’t think twice about giving away his credit cards, social security number, and mother's maiden name if he had one.

Karen laughs a little, like she thinks Castiel just has a really quirky sense of humor. When he doesn't join in, she awkwardly morphs it into one of those really obvious fake coughs and turns back to her wine.

Dean's kind of disappointed. Sometimes Castiel uses his freaky mindreading mojo and says things like, "You should not feel guilty that he married you only because you were pregnant," and they throw their drinks at him. On a good night, going to a bar with Castiel is better than watching Springer.

An eternity of stony silence and eerie staring later, Karen slinks away, looking bewildered and clutching her glass of merlot a little too tightly, and Dean takes his seat back. Castiel nods in acknowledgement of his return, but seems otherwise unaffected by the encounter.

"So, Angel of the Lord, huh?" Dean says, and knocks back the last of his beer. "You get dental with that?"

"Jimmy Novak once had a terrible overbite and was in desperate need of a root canal," Castiel says, and his smile is all perfect, gleaming white teeth.

"I'll take that as a yes," Dean says, and orders another round.

July 6th (65 Days)

"I would like to acquire a library card," Castiel says, out of the blue one morning. "I have exhausted the resources I have found using the internet."

"Ok," Dean says. "Can't you just... go get one?"

Castiel frowns and shakes his head and says, "I do not know how." Dean forgets, sometimes, that Castiel only plays a human on TV.

"Well, OK, I don't really know, either," Dean admits. "Sam used to handle that shit."

According to the Dayton Metro Library website, all you need is a photo id, which they both have plenty of, and proof of residence. The main branch turns out to be down the street from Dean's work, so Dean grabs an electric bill and his car keys, and drives them both downtown.

Castiel's absolute cluelessness usually charms women, and the woman behind the circulation desk is no exception. They get library cards, a tour of the collection, a lecture on the history of the building and the Ohio library system in general. Castiel even gets a poster of cartoon Superman flying over a stack of books that says READ!

The librarian, when she's not being really really into Castiel, is really into murder mysteries, and shoves three of them into Castiel's hands before he can protest.

"Well, even if you don't love them, they're fun." She says, and winks, and sashays off. Dean is pretty sure that her phone number is on one of the bookmarks she shoved into Castiel's pocket. As soon as she's gone, Castiel makes a beeline for the history/religion/boring section. Dean stops him with a hand on his chest before he can get too far.

"My shift starts in 10 minutes, do you think you can find your way home?" He asks. Dean's not so much worried about Castiel's ability to get around, the guy can still zap himself wherever he wants to go, as long as it's somewhere in Ohio. It's more that surrounded by boring, dusty-ass books, Castiel looks like a kid in a candy store, and Dean is worried that he's not going to remember to leave.

"Absolutely," Castiel says.

"Write if you find work," Dean says, and walks out.

When Dean comes home from work that night, Castiel is sitting in the living room, reading a book improbably titled Bimbos Of The Death Sun. Dean doesn't ask how Castiel found his way back. He also chooses not to ask about the mud tracks near the front door or the twigs he finds caught in Castiel's hair.

July 11th (70 Days)

"Dude," Dean finally says, after watching Castiel start to leave the apartment for fifth day in a row in his white shirt, blue tie, and gray slacks. "You can't wear the same thing every day if you're gonna actually see other people more than once a month."

Castiel asks, "Why not? You wear that to work every day."

Dean looks down at his You Deserve Therapy shirt, which is starting to fray around the collar and come apart at the hem. "That's different," he says. "This is a uniform, they make me wear this. You, on the other hand, look like a crazy homeless dude." Which is interesting, because last year they were both of them living like crazy homeless dudes.

Dean tries to talk him into dressing like a normal human being, but apparently over the last few years he's gotten into the whole Holy Roman Tax Accountant look. He's still really into ties and button-downs, though he's ditched the trench coat, thank God.

"No," Dean says, putting his foot down. "None of that corporate casual shit."

So Dean takes Castiel to Wal-Mart, where he hates everything, Goodwill, where he only picks out things that are butt ugly and look like they haven't been worn since 1967, and Target, where Castiel tries on white skinny-leg pants and a plaid shirt, with a frickin' bandana tied around his neck.

"You look like an 18 year old hipster," Dean says in disgust.

"The young woman at the counter recommended all these things," Castiel says.

"That's because she's an 18 year old hipster," Dean says. The young woman in question has a dream catcher tattooed on her shoulder, is wearing an ill-fitting jumpsuit, and looks like she fell out of a documentary about Woodstock. She's also staring at Castiel like she wants to eat him.

"Dude, no," Dean says. "Just no."

Castiel in skinny jeans freaks Dean the fuck out enough that he calls truce and he lets Castiel pick out the most boring-ass clothes he can find. Castiel looks disappointed every time Dean tries to maneuver him towards the clearance racks, so everything he wants is full-price. When the lady at the checkout tells him he can save 10% by opening a credit card, Dean does the math in his head and says, "Hell yes."

Castiel walks out of the store with a three-pack of boxers, a three-pack of wife beaters, a six-pack of tube-socks, four button-down shirts, four pairs of slacks, and a pair of tennis shoes. Dean walks out of the store with a lower credit score.

For days after, Dean wakes up to the sight of Castiel walking around the apartment in boxer shorts, holding a shirt or a pair of pants and looking confused. Whenever he notices that Dean's awake, he'll hold up whatever it is that he's looking at, and ask, "Does this match?"

Dean is usually laughing too hard to say yes or no, and Castiel eventually puts on whatever he wants in cranky defiance. It's totally pathetic, but for a while, it's kind of the best part of Dean's day.

July 31st (90 Days)

Three months in and Dean finally cannot stand the idea of eating another cheeseburger.

"That's it," Dean says. "I am not eating any fast food for at least a month. I really mean it: no burgers, no tacos, and no deep fried anything."

Castiel tilts his head to the side, considering. "I am curious to see if you can do this thing."

"Yeah, well," Dean says, "You're helping."

Castiel checks cookbooks out of the library, titles like Eating Well and The New Vegetarian Cookbook and one that Dean assumes is a joke called Good Stuff, which is almost entirely recipes for burgers and fries.

"Are you fucking with me?" Dean asks. "The only things in this book that aren't deep fried are the milkshakes."

Castiel shrugs and says, "I was both fascinated and repulsed by the bacon-wrapped asparagus."

Dean picks out five things that don't look like they'll kill him to make or eat, and Castiel starts putting together a grocery list that's longer than the usual cereal, milk and beer. Dean sucks at time management, and by the time they've got the list finished, he's nearly running late for work.

"You got this?" He asks, gesturing towards Castiel with the shopping list and a credit card.

"I believe so," Castiel says. He even sounds like he's telling the truth, which means he's either gotten better at lying, or he really doesn't know what he's getting himself into.

Two hours later, Dean gets a call on his cell phone.

"Dean," Castiel says, sounding confused and annoyed, "What does fennel look like?"

"How the fuck should I know?" Dean says, "Ask someone who works there."

Dean finds out when he gets home that fennel looks like a cross between a turnip and a feather boa.

"Which side of this thing do you eat?" He asks, seeing as they both look equally unappetizing.

Castiel says, "I was hoping you would know."

"Jesus," Dean says, opening the fridge. Usually, it contains only booze and condiments, but now he can't see through to the back wall. "Did you leave anything in the store?"

"Yes," Castiel says, handing him a green pepper and a paring knife.

During the first week of Experimenting with Real Food, Dean burns his arm in three places fighting with the oven, accidentally uses cayenne pepper instead of chili powder, and dumps an entire pot of soup on the floor. It's almost enough to make him go running back to diners and dives, but he hits enough culinary home-runs that it's all worth it.

Castiel still doesn't need to eat, but he tries whatever it is that Dean's having, and he always does the dishes after.

August 2nd (92 Days)

Dean totally forgets about calling Lisa for like a week and a half, and feels like a completely dick. He dials her number, composing more and more elaborate apologies as he waits for the phone to connect. Lisa picks up after three rings and before he can even say hello, she blurts out, "I'm pregnant."

All the apologies drop out of Dean's head, he does some frantic mental math, and comes up with, oh shit.

"It's not yours this time, either," Lisa says, stopping Dean's freakout in its tracks.

"Oh," he says, floored. He isn't faking the shock or disappointment he feels, but he also isn't faking the bone-deep sense of relief. "How did that happen?"

"In the usual way, Dean," Lisa says, the you idiot left unspoken. "I met someone. He rides a vintage Harley and likes kids." She pauses. "And you were gone."

Dean glances across the living room at where Castiel is perched on the couch reading If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him, the latest recommendation from Kathy the Librarian. "Yeah," Dean says, "I still am."

"Look, Dean," Lisa says, her voice starting to waver. "We had great sexual chemistry. No one can deny that. And you've become a great friend. And Ben loves you, you're great with him. But I've been thinking about it a lot, and I don't think we ever really worked, not like we really should have. What do you think?"

"Lisa," Dean says. He pauses, not sure what he's supposed to say. He's not sure there is a right thing to say. The silence stretches out for what feels like forever

"Yeah." Lisa says, eventually. "Ok, yeah. That's what I thought, too."

Dean comes home that night after a double shift, having been thrown up on twice, and is in no fucking mood. The sight of Castiel perched over the laptop in the living room is simultaneously so familiar and so fucking useless that Dean finds himself suddenly, irrationally angry. He slams the door, but Castiel barely even twitches.

"Welcome back, Dean." Castiel says, not looking away from the laptop screen.

Dean walks into the kitchen, opens the fridge, and stares aimlessly into the blinding white interior. "Any new leads?" he asks, even though he already knows the answer.

"No," Castiel says, "Though I remain confident that an answer will be found."

"You've been looking for three months and there's been nothing. Less than nothing. What the fuck do you do all day?" Dean closes the fridge door and leans back against it, feeling restless.

"Without unfettered access to the Host, I do not have all the resources I need. I am making do with what I can find here, but the information is mostly incomplete and in many cases wholly incorrect." Castiel says, his voice flat. It's how he says nearly everything these days, and it makes him sound like a God damn robot.

"Seriously, three months of dead ends and that's your whole story?" Dean asks.

"Yes," Castiel says.

"How does nothing bother you, anymore?" Dean asks, "I swear to God, Cas, you used to at least get pissed off."

Castiel is a picture of serenity when he says, "What do I have to be angry for?"

Dean feels his hands curling into loose fists at his sides. "We're trapped in Ohio," he shouts. "What, did you forget about that one?"

Castiel sighs and stands, finally stepping away from the damn computer. "I did not forget, I simply choose to believe that-" Dean drags himself out of the kitchen and into the living room, positions himself so that he's standing right in front of Castiel, about four feet and twenty miles away. He almost misses the days before Castiel finally learned about personal space.

"If you fucking say one word about the will of God, I swear I will not be able to control myself." Dean grits out between clenched teeth.

"Dean," Castiel says, very slight traces of desperation creeping in to his voice. He turns his face towards the window, away from Dean. Dean can't get a good read on him. "This is not like the last time, where I made a choice and accepted the consequences of my actions. This time, I have been cut off from the Host without reason."

"So you're, what, trying to this too shall pass your way through it?" Dean asks, incredulous. "Fucking hell, Cas, that's all the more reason to get pissed off. I sure as shit wouldn't want to be stuck down here with me."

Castiel sighs. "I am trying my hardest to make due and have faith," He says. "It's not made easier by you when you do things like this."

Dean asks, "Do things like what? Jesus, Cas, will you at least look at me?"

Castiel keeps looking away, will not meet Dean's eyes as he says, "When you act as though your life is worth nothing, and that I all I sacrificed for you has come to nothing."

"Listen," Dean says, "Listen, Cas, I..."

Castiel turns toward him, and before Dean can puzzle out what the hell he was going to say in the first place, Castiel suddenly hauls forward and kisses him. Castiel's mouth is shamelessly mobile, open and wet. He's kissing with purpose, like he's proving a point, and Dean is a little stunned, a bit surprised, and a lot into it.

Castiel pulls back and says, "You deserved to be saved."

Dean sucks in a breath, light-headed. Before he has enough oxygen getting to his brain to start processing, Castiel kisses him again.

Castiel says, "Your life is not meaningless."

Dean doesn't want to hear it, but he does want to feel Castiel's body against his, does want to feel Castiel's hands gripping him tight.

Castiel says, "You are worthy of love."

Dean shoves ineffectually at Castiel's shoulders, pushes until he gets enough clearance to take a few stumbling steps backwards.

"Stop it," Dean pants, "Stop talking." Castiel is still staring at him. He has that same intense look in his eyes, the one that he always gives Dean when they're alone and close like this, the one that says, why can't you see what I see when I look at you.

Dean pulls himself fully upright, takes another step back. Castiel stays in the same position, standing alone in the middle of the room, looking rumpled and lost, out of place. "I have to go," Dean says. "I'll be back when... I'll be back."

He catches a fleeting glimpse of Castiel's disappointed face on his way out the door.

August 3rd (93 Days)

"Whoa, there, Champ," Savira says, catching a glass that Dean had been in the process of knocking off the bar. "Rough night?" She asks.

Dean says, "Huh?" She blinks at him, waving the glass in his face, and he says, "Oh, uh, yeah."

Dean had slunk back into the apartment around 4 A.M., hoping against hope that Castiel wasn't there. By some small mercy, the living room had been empty and the door to the second bedroom had been closed.

"Ah," she says, "Trouble in paradise."

Trouble in paradise is one of those phrases that Dean has only ever heard people on TV shows say. It's not really something that he'd ever thought someone would say to him.

"What?" Dean says.

"I know that look, that's a slept on the couch kind of look." She says, smirking. "What did you do? Did Cas kick you out?"

"Did Cas what? He's just my roommate," Dean says. Which is a complete fucking lie, Castiel is far from just a roommate. It's just that Dean doesn't actually think there's a word for what Castiel is. Sam would have told him if there was.

"Look Dean," Savira says, looking totally hurt and sad and disappointed, which makes less than no sense. "You don't have to it hide from me. I know."

"Know what?" Dean asks, totally fucking confused.

"I've talked to Cas, ok?" Savira says, which is totally news to Dean. "He told me how much he loves you." Dean doesn't want to explain the whole, Castiel loves all of God's creatures because he's an Angel of the fucking Lord thing, so he lets that one slide.

"Whatever, fine," he says, "We had a fight last night." Savira makes a sympathetic face.

"Money?" She asks. "Brad and I are like, always fighting about money. It sucks."

He doesn't know how to explain what happened to her. Cas kissed me and I totally freaked out like a teenage girl, is maybe the most concise way to put it, but it's not really accurate. Dean hadn't freaked out because Castiel kissed him, Dean had freaked out because of the shit Castiel was saying.

"Yeah," Dean says. "It was totally about money. It fucking sucks."

"Tell me about it," Savira says, rolling her eyes.

When Dean gets home from work, Castiel is waiting up for him. He doesn't even pretend like he's doing research or reading or whatever else it is that he does all day, he's just sitting at the table in the living room, staring at the door as Dean walks in.

"Whoa," Dean says. "That's really creepy. I thought we'd moved past really creepy."

Castiel tilts his head in that way he does, like he's looking at some sort of fascinating bug. "Humans are such strange creatures," he says. "I do not understand why you pretend that you do not want the things that you want."

Dean shakes his head. "You don't know what I want," he says. "For God's sake, I don't know what the hell I want."

"Of course I know what you want," Castiel says, like it's obvious. "I can see into your soul. You cannot hide from me."

"What the fuck, Cas," Dean says. "You can't just say that to people. You can see into my soul? Who the hell told you you could do that?"

"I am in love with you, Dean," Castiel says. Dean's heart skips a beat and for a second he forgets how to take another breath.

"Yeah, well," he says through the weird tension in his chest, "I never told you you could do that, either."

"I didn't know I needed permission," Castiel says, and it's so perfect, it's just such a God damn Cas thing to say that Dean starts cracking up laughing. Once he's started, he can’t stop, and he can only breathe in short, raspy pants that don't get nearly enough oxygen to his brain. He can feel himself starting to black out, but he doesn't actually make it to the ground before Castiel is there, holding him up with one arm around his waist.

"I do not see what you find so humorous about this situation," Castiel says, finally sounding pissed off, which sets Dean off again.

"It's nothing," Dean says, once he can breathe again, once the whole fucking reality of his existence stops crashing down around him. "It's really nothing." Castiel looks at him like, I will never understand humans, and Dean doesn't really blame him.

Once Dean's regained his grip on awareness, he notices that Castiel's arm is still around his waist, that Castiel's barely exerting any effort to hold all of Dean's weight. It's another one of those things that reminds Dean, as if he could forget, that Castiel still isn't human. That when Castiel says he can see into Dean's soul, he's really not being metaphorical.

"I apologize if my actions last night made you uncomfortable," Castiel says.

"Uncomfortable," Dean repeats, incredulous.

"Yes," Castiel says. "I did not mean to."

"Look, you didn't make me uncomfortable," Dean says. "You... look, I just don't want to hear that stuff, ok?"

Castiel tilts his head to the side, considering, and Dean knows he isn't going to like what Castiel's about to say. "But it's true. You are worthy of love."

"Fuck!" Dean says, pulling himself upright, out of Castiel's hold. "This is what I'm talking about."

Castiel opens his mouth to say something, so the way Dean sees it, has no choice but to kiss him to shut him up. Castiel responds immediately and God, it's just as good now as it was last night: just as hot, just as wet, and just as stupid and fucking dangerous.

In the idle moments that Dean had thought about the possibility of this happening, he'd always put himself firmly in the driver's seat. He'd thought that Castiel would be wooden or clueless or fumbling. He hadn't expected the way that Castiel takes over, one hand in Dean's hair, another at the hollow of his back, pulling him in close.

Castiel backs him against the wall in the living room, pressing in so that Dean can feel the hot length of his body all down his front. Dean reaches around, grabbing Castiel's ass, pulling his left knee up and hitching his hips closer.

It becomes apparent quickly that Castiel really doesn't have to breathe, and Dean has to shove his face back a little so he can catch his breath before he passes out again. Castiel grinds into him, unexpected and aggressive, and Dean accidentally bangs his head against the wall.

"Christ," Dean says, rubbing the sore spot at the back of his skull. "What are we doing?"

"I thought that we were having sex." Castiel says, scowling. "Though, it appears that every time I try to have sex with a human they run away. It's getting aggravating."

Dean laughs and has to kiss Castiel again. "Ok," he says, "I get it. No running away this time."

"Yes." Castiel dives back in, hands seemingly everywhere. Dean can feel the button-fly on his jeans coming undone by some invisible force as Castiel pushes the flannel shirt off Dean's shoulders. After Castiel shoves Dean's T-shirt half-way up his chest and leaves it there, uncomfortably wedged under Dean's armpits, Dean just grabs it by the hem and jerks it off over his head. Which leaves him half-naked, pants undone, and Castiel is fully clothed, which is just not fair.

"Hey, your turn," Dean says, reaching for the lapels of Castiel's jacket. Castiel must interpret the gesture in a completely different way, because instead of getting naked, he drops to his knees. "Holy shit," Dean says.

"I do wish you would stop blaspheming," Castiel says, looking up through his lashes at Dean, before he leans in and does some things that make Dean blaspheme like it's going out of style.

Dean swims back to consciousness from the world of oh fucking God yes thank Jesus that feels so good to the feeling of Castiel's hand wrapped around the base of his dick, Castiel's warm, wet mouth wrapped around the tip.

"I thought you said you hadn't done this before," Dean gasps between deep, panting breaths.

"I haven't," Castiel says, using his hand to smear spit and pre-come over the head of Dean's dick. "But you have described the act frequently. I took notes."

Castiel goes back down like a fucking pro, no hesitation, and Dean's hips jerk up, pushing into Castiel's mouth one last time, and he loses it, coming like he hasn't in years.

"Fuck," Dean says panting, his legs barely steady enough to hold his weight. "I take it back. You can say whatever you want."

"I had hoped that you would see it my way," Castiel says, smirking. He stands up in one graceful, fluid motion, pressing up against Dean again.

"Hey," Dean says, pulling at the hem of Castiel's button-down. "Your turn." Castiel takes it the right way this time, pulling out of his clothes in angelic-assisted time. Dean guides him back so that they're lying together on the tiny, lumpy couch. Dean wraps his hand around Castiel's dick, gives it a few experimental pulls before he works out a rhythm. The angle's harder with Dean sprawled on top of Castiel the way he is, it's like Dean's jerking himself off backwards and blindfolded, but Castiel gasps like it's the best thing he's ever felt, which maybe it is.

"Yeah," Dean says, "That's it. Come on, I've got you."

"Dean," Castiel says, urgent and wild-eyed and Dean can't help the surge of little-kid I did that pride he feels. Castiel comes all over Dean's hand and stomach, and Dean wipes it off on the ugly-ass couch. After what happened with Castiel and the dishwasher last week, he already knows they're not getting the deposit back.

"You keep talking like that," Dean says, "And I'm gonna want to shut you up. This is gonna keep happening."

"I will keep that in mind," Castiel says.

August 17th (107 Days)

Two weeks after they start doing whatever the hell it is they're doing, Castiel turns to Dean and says, "I believe I should seek gainful employment."

Dean almost sprains something thinking about just how bad an idea that is.

"We're still working on the whole fitting in with humanity thing, man." Dean says. "You're not ready to join the workaday world yet, Cas. Baby steps."

"I mean it, Dean." Castiel says. "My attempts at research have gotten nowhere. I feel useless and I hate that."

"Well, I mean, what do you want to do?" Dean asks.

Castiel pauses, briefly considering. He eventually says, "I would like very much to spread the word of the Lord God."

Dean is hit with a sudden image of Castiel in priest robes, and the image freaks him out and turns him on in equal measure. Hell, no.

"Whoa, man." Dean says. "I am not sleeping with a preacher man. And I don't think that Dayton is really ready for that."

Castiel shakes his head. He says, "Though my thoughts had initially turned to the seminary, I meant something different. I was thinking of teaching."

Apparently what Castiel really means is that he's been stalking the campus of University of Dayton while Dean's been at work, and he's decided that he wants to be a Professor of Theology when he grows up. The more Dean thinks about it, the more it doesn't seem like a completely stupid idea. If there's one thing Castiel knows, it's completely useless details about religion.

"Actually," Dean says, "I think that could work."

Dean has Bobby fake up a plausible back-story, a moderately impressive CV, and a bullet-proof list of references. "Like I know my ass from a hole in the ground in academia," Bobby grumbles.

"Just make him look smart," Dean pleads.

Castiel goes dream-walking a couple nights, and manages to convince a visiting professor that he's being called by God to go do missionary work in the Sudan right away. It's kind of an underhanded dick move, but the guy has the lowest scores on, like, ever.

Seeing as the start of the semester is a week away, the Dean of Students uses words like miracle and Godsend when Castiel just happens to wander into his office, looking for work.

Castiel starts in the fall teaching two undergraduate lectures on the Old Testament and a graduate level class in Ecclesiology. Dean doesn't admit that he has to look up the word Ecclesiology three times.

Dean's routine shifts again.

He wakes up every morning now next to Castiel. Castiel still doesn't sleep, but he usually sticks around after they have sex, and he claims that lying in the dark all night helps him focus. Dean thinks he's lying, and that he spends all night staring at Dean like a perv, but it means that if Dean wakes up early enough, they can usually go another round before breakfast.

They have breakfast together before Castiel's 1:30 discussion group. The bank gave them a free toaster when Dean added Castiel to his checking account, so now sometimes Dean has toast instead of cereal. Castiel doesn't like most food, still, but has taken to bizarrely expensive cheese bagels like a duck to water. Dean bristles at the chunk they take out of the food budget, but he perversely enjoys watching Castiel eat, so he usually lets it slide.

Dean had asked Castiel if he wanted to learn to drive when they first got to Ohio, and Castiel had said, pretty much, "No, never, no way." He'd used a lot more words, but Dean had figured out what he meant pretty quickly. So Dean drives Castiel to campus on the days he has class. Dean still doesn't know how Castiel gets home afterward, but he doesn't find twigs in his hair anymore. Gotta consider that a good sign.

They still go out on Thursday nights, but mostly they just go to dinner at a restaurant that's been recommended by someone they know. Dean tries not to think of it as date night, but his coworkers call it that anyway, because they're all jerks. Sometimes, when Castiel swings by to pick him up after his shift at work, Savira sighs and says, "I wish I was gay married, too."

On weekends they run errands, like adding to Castiel's wardrobe of boring-ass professor clothes and returning overdue library books. Castiel is still burning through the mystery section, though every once in a while he branches out into historical fiction to mock the inaccuracies.

Some nights, if Dean gets off early from work and Castiel is done with his lesson plans, they sit on the balcony drinking whiskey and watching the sun set. When Castiel manages to drink enough to get buzzed (read: when Castiel drinks them out of house and home), he teaches Dean how to curse in Enochian.

Castiel still maintains that assbutt is in fact a very insulting thing to call an angel. Dean has his doubts, but it turns out most Enochian swears actually revolve around farm animals. "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the firmament," Castiel tells him, "There really wasn't a lot to do."

Dean likes the way Castiel smiles after he says things like, "Your mother lies down with sheep." He likes it more when Castiel laughs at his half-assed attempts. Apparently, Dean's accent in Enochian makes him sound like a Mesopotamian fishmonger. Whatever the hell that sounds like.

August 23rd (113 Days)

With Castiel curled up in his arms, their mutual sweat cooling in the fake breeze of the air conditioning, Dean finally feels brave enough to ask the question he's been thinking about since day one. "Hey," Dean says into the darkness, "Are you ever going to tell me what it was you were doing in Heaven?"

"If I am going to be honest," Castiel says, "Mostly I missed you."

"Seriously, Cas," Dean says, "You gotta knock off the Hallmark card shit. I am not a woman."

"I had noticed," Castiel says, and Dean can hear the smirk in his voice, even if it's too dark to see it.

"You better have," Dean growls.

"I am not being hyperbolic," Castiel says, sounding serious again. "I missed Earth, and I missed you."

"You like it down here?" Dean asks.

"Yes," Castiel says, "Very much. I enjoyed my experience here more than I thought I did at the time."

"I swear to God, Cas," Dean says, shaking his head. "I spent months thinking you were pissed off that you were stuck here with me. Why the hell didn't you say anything?"

"I felt that I would be giving myself away and I did not want to be... the other woman." Castiel says the words like he's trying them out.

"The other woman?" Dean asks, confused. "Oh, hell, Lisa. You were waiting for Lisa to break up with me."

"Yes." Castiel says, shameless. Dean loves the way that Castiel says yes, without any hesitation or uncertainty. Even when he's admitting to being something less than a perfect angel. "When I was in heaven, I had convinced myself that you would be happier with Lisa. I had thought that Sam was correct, and that what you needed to be fulfilled would be what you refer to as a normal life. I had not considered the possibility that Sam was wrong."

"Until we were stuck here?" Dean asks. "And I was still rocking the poor, pitiful me shit?"

"Yes." Castiel says, again.

Dean doesn't really know what to say to that. He never consider that getting trapped in Ohio could be a good thing, that it could lead to something good.

"Here's what I don't get," Dean says, after a long, considering pause. "If this is God's plan for me, couldn't he have planned it in a better state than Ohio?"

"Don't you remember what you told Lisa?" Castiel asks. Dean shakes his head, because he told Lisa lot of shit, sometimes just to fill time. "The Ohio state motto is with God, all things are possible. Even an angel and a human living in sin, such as we are."

Castiel's mouth is gorgeous as it shapes the words living in sin, and Dean has to kiss him, has to keep kissing him until he's breathless and dizzy with it.

August 26th (116 Days)

It's Thursday night, Castiel's turn to pick, and he wants to go to some tapas place that does a happy hour from 3:30-5:00. His Old Testament lecture goes until 3:45, so Dean figures he'll sit through it this once and then they can just go on from there.

Dean slinks into the lecture hall, settles in the back with the slackers and the kids who use going to class as an excuse to get some sleep. Dean had thought that the students enrolled in Intro to Smiting 101 would be all preacher's daughter, Leah-from-Blue-Earth kind of young women in cardigans, but the room is filled primarily with bored-looking co-eds in hoodies.

Castiel is not, to Dean's surprise, a terrible professor. Dean had been afraid he'd be one of those teachers who gets way too into the material and makes all the kids think he's a complete freak for having a hard-on for the periodic table. Instead, the kids all sit up straight and stop talking when he walks into the room.

"Good afternoon, students," Castiel says. "Today we will be covering the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah." Dean so does not remember that being on the syllabus.

Castiel talks for 30 minutes about Lot, his pillar of salt wife, and his slutty, incestuous daughters. He also mentions how Sodom was filled with dudes that wanted to have sex with angels, and all the ways God showed humanity how that's a terrible, terrible idea. It's all Dean can do to stop himself from laughing out loud.

Dean likes the way Castiel lectures. He doesn't do the whole dry, chalk-and-talk thing that Dean remembers from high school, and instead he tells stories from the Old Testament with a sort of foot-soldier-in-the-trenches perspective.

When Castiel opens the floor up for discussion, nearly every hand in the room shoots up.

At 3:45, the room is hot-and-heavy into a debate on sexual morality, and Castiel looks a little bit overwhelmed. Dean is tempted to stand up, turn on whatever bright lights he can find, and do the whole you don't have to go home but you can't stay here speech that he does at the end of the night at work.

A kid in the front row asks why angels aren't coming to Earth to destroy Las Vegas and there's an expectant pause where the students stop sniping at each other and focus on Castiel instead.

Castiel says, "I can't say that the angels haven't considered it. A plan is usually proposed once a year to smite a city as an example, but the Host has been unable to agree upon what the most wicked city on Earth is for many hundreds of years. For my part, I usually vote for Los Angeles."

Dean laughs, because it fucking figures that they haven't been wiped out because the angels collectively can't find their asses with both hands. Lord help the human race if they ever get their shit together.

"I will see you again next week," Castiel says, and just like that, no fanfare, the students all get up and leave.

Castiel lingers down in the front until Dean can shove his way through the crowd.

"So, what you're telling me is," Dean says, "You were there when the whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing went down?"

"Yes," Castiel says, nodding. "My garrison was assigned to the entire territory of Zoar. Uriel did most of the actual smiting."

"Dude there's irony and then there's irony," Dean says, grabbing Castiel's ass. "I think I've known you at least a dozen times by now. Shouldn't you be raining hellfire on me?"

"That was a long time ago," Castiel says. "I've changed."

Dean's youthful indiscretions involved booze, bongs, and indiscriminate women. Castiel's involved turning entire cities to rubble. Now, Dean is headed to tapas and sangria with his live-in whatever and Castiel takes spiders outside when he finds them in the bathtub. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

"I'll say," Dean says.

September 3rd (124 Days)

Savira throws a dinner party with some people she knows from around town and some people from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where Brad's stationed. She invites Dean, tells him to bring Castiel, and awkwardly makes a couple stupid Don't Ask Don't Tell jokes about Brad's work friends.

Dean is all ready to fake a sudden bout of the flu, but Castiel says, "I have never been to a dinner party," and then they have to go.

Savira's apartment is crowded wall to wall with enough 20-somethings that Dean starts to feel old. He's only got 5 or 6 years on these people, so he can only imagine what Castiel feels like, having a couple millennia on everyone.

More than once, Dean hears himself introduce Castiel as his partner and immediately cringes. When the fuck did that happen?

After dinner, Savira makes a beeline straight for them, pulling Brad along behind.

"This is Brad," she chirps when she reaches them, as though there's be another 6'2" wall of muscle that she'd be dragging around the room. "Brad, this is Dean, who I work with and Castiel, who I don't remember what he does."

The way Savira described him, Brad is the kind of person where the phrase 'Professor of Theology' is going to go right over his head. Dean cuts in before Castiel can speak, and says, "He teaches religion."

Savira and Brad both pull matching you're-fucking-with-me faces.

"It's not as boring as it sounds," Dean says, which isn't even a lie. Dean's still reeling from how explicit Castiel had gotten about what the dudes had wanted to do with the angels.

"I'll take your word on that," Savira says, swaying into his personal space the way she always does. "So how did you two meet?"

Dean realizes way too late that they should have agreed on a convincing cover story before they came. All he can think is that Castiel saying gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition totally has a different context in his head now that they're sleeping together.

"Uh," Dean says, brain dead.

"I met Dean through my last job," Castiel covers, smooth as distilled vodka. "I was assigned to work his case, and I felt at the time that we shared an immediate connection."

"Oh, yeah." Dean says. "What he said."

"His case?" Savira asks, before she pulls an I-get-it-now face. "Dean, you didn't tell me he used to do social work! Oh, that totally makes everything make sense." Dean reads between the lines, puts together two and two and comes up with Savira wondering what such a together dude was doing with a fuck-up like him. "Though, man, that's like, way unethical."

"Yeah," Dean says. "You have no idea."

September 7th (128 Days)

Dean wakes up on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday morning to the sudden awareness that he's in love with Castiel. The realization feels is like a physical sensation, like taking the first drop on a roller coaster.

Dean hasn't had a lot of good experiences with love. He loves his parents and he loves Sam, but the Winchester brand of familial love has lead to nothing but decades of pain and hardship and sacrifice. He figures he loves Bobby like a father, but they're both happier never acknowledging that shit out loud. He isn't sure if he was in love with Lisa, though he guesses if he has to ask, the answer is no. Cassie he could have seen himself having a future with, but in the end it wasn't enough for him to stay.

As much as Dean hates even thinking things like, Castiel's different, he is. Dean doesn't know what the hell it is that Castiel sees in him, sees in his soul, but he's grateful for every day that Castiel still wants to stick around.

Dean becomes obsessed with saying it, or really, obsessed with not saying it. No matter how much he wants to do it, he can't bring himself to actually say the words out loud. He just thinks them really, really loudly, and who the fuck knows, Castiel can read minds, so that might actually be enough.

September 13th (134 Days)

Dean is watching Springer in the living room when the door opens unexpectedly and Castiel walks in.

"I thought you had a 1:30 today?" Dean asks.

"A water mane burst near my building and all my classes have been cancelled for the rest of the week." Castiel says, "I did, briefly, think of using the occasion as an excuse to cover the Wedding at Cana, but I did not have the appropriate liquor license prepared."

Dean stares blankly as Castiel smiles to himself.

"That was a joke." Castiel says.

Dean stares some more.

The little smile falls off Castiel's face, replaced by a look of fond disappointment. "The Wedding at Cana was where Jesus turned the water into wine, Dean."

"Dude, if that is your idea of a joke, remind me to never, ever go to your little faculty get-togethers." Castiel frowns, looking totally hurt and Dean feels like a jerk so he says, "Come here."

Castiel hesitates for a couple seconds, but eventually lets himself be drawn across the room by what Dean can only assume is his sheer animal magnetism. "Let's try this one over again," Dean says, pulling Castiel down to into his lap. "How was your day at work, honey?"

This gets Castiel to smile that little smirk again, and he says, "Considering that I did not have to do anything, and I am getting paid anyway, I believe it was the best day ever."

Dean actually does laugh at that one, and Castiel full-on beams at him, that odd not-quite-right grin that he only uses when they're alone.

"Well, Professor," Dean says, "Now that you've got the day off, and I don't have to be at work until 5:30... whatever will we do with this time we have now?"

"I had some thoughts," Castiel says, pulling at the hem of Dean's shirt. "I promise not all of them were about Jesus."

Castiel leans in and bites Dean's earlobe, works his way down Dean's neck to his shoulder.

"There is something I wanted us to do," Castiel says.

Castiel is surrounded at almost all times by hormone-driven teenagers with vivid imaginations, and every once in a while it leads to him coming home with new, surprisingly adventurous ideas. "Oh yeah?" Dean asks, expecting him to describe some explicit, pornographic act that he's recently discovered.

What Castiel actually says is, "I want us to buy a house."

Dean, who'd been anticipating Castiel saying something like, I want you to tie me up and ride me like a horse, has to take a moment to process. When he does, the first words out of his mouth are, "Fuck no! Where the hell did that come from?"

"I read the King James Bible last night," Castiel says, and when he says that, he doesn't mean he read passages, he means he read the whole thing. Dean is once again vividly reminded that he's sleeping with someone who just does that. "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

Dean, who last voluntarily entered a church in 1985, has no idea what Castiel is talking about. He didn't even know they owned a Bible. "What does that even mean?" he asks.

"It's an allegory for Heaven," Castiel says. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also. I had thought, since I cannot take you there yet, to live with me in paradise, that we could build a home together here."

Castiel still doesn't know the difference between normal, romantic things that humans say to each other, like, I'm going to come inside you, and the kind of shit that crosses a line into things that make Dean deeply uncomfortable. Dean has absolutely no response for this kind of stuff, so he usually ends up sounding stupid, or agreeing to things that he otherwise wouldn't. Which is why, instead of saying hell no, he finds himself mumbling, "Yeah, sure."

September 18th (139 Days)

Dean says, "I can't believe I let you talk me into this," between gritted teeth as Kristy the realtor unlocks to door to yet another boring-ass beige-painted house. Castiel ignores him in favor of making interested hmm noises as Kristy points out the new tile in the walkway.

Dean doesn't have a good frame of reference for real estate besides TV and Castiel has no frame of reference for anything at all, so they've spent all day blandly interested and totally fucking lost. Remarkably, every place they've looked has had some slight problem with it that only Castiel can see, but damn, who is Dean to argue with an Angel of the Lord about potentially faulty wiring? Especially in front of Kristy, who is strawberry blond and stacked and completely terrifying.

"Oh my gosh, you two are going to just love this!" She chirps, regardless of the fact that neither of them have just loved anything all day. Her seemingly limitless well of cheerfulness isn't even slightly dampened by Castiel's, "I think we should keep looking," in response to her 15th, "So what do you guys think?"

Dean waits until she's safely in her scary-ass pink Hummer, on the way to the next boring-ass beige house, before grabbing Castiel by the elbow. "There was nothing wrong with that place," Dean hisses between his teeth.

"The teenagers loitering in the vicinity looked shifty," Castiel says, looking shifty.

"They're teenager, Cas," Dean says. "That's what they do."

Castiel tilts his head at Dean, looking unconvinced. He says, "There is one more place I would like us to look at."

"Fine," Dean says. "But we're getting the next place that looks even remotely livable."

The next place is a rambling, ranch-style split-level in Murlin Heights, one of Dayton's northern suburbs. The house has an interior that is eerily reminiscent of the beautiful room in Van Nuys, about 15 different remote controls for every moving object inside, and a pool in the back yard. It's also about $50,000 more than Dean told Castiel and Kristy that he was willing to spend.

"You set me up," Dean growls.

"I do not know what you're talking about," Castiel says, face emotionless except for the slight uptick at the corner of his mouth. Dean knows that expression, that expression means that Castiel is totally fucking with him.

"Son of a bitch," Dean says, and goes to talk to Kristy about financing.

October 1st (152 Days)

Right after they close on the house, Dean calls Lisa. She sounds happier to talk to him now than she ever did when he called before.

"How's the baby?" He asks.

"It's not a whole baby yet, Dean." Lisa says, and Dean can picture perfectly the way she's rolling her eyes. "Right now it's some serious weight gain and acid reflux like you would not believe. I'm only in the first trimester, I'm not even showing. Oh, and don't you dare tell the girls at the yoga studio, they're all 19 years old and scared of stretch marks. They'll never let me live it down."

"Ok." Dean says, "I won't tell."

"Oh, what am I saying," she says, laughing. Dean likes the way her voice sounds, the way she doesn't sound tired or run-down or disappointed. "How are you doing? You haven't called since..." She trails off.

"Yeah, well, some stuff happened right after that and it's been hectic." Dean says.

"I can imagine," Lisa says. "You still in Ohio?"

"Yeah," Dean says. "Still trapped in the Midwest. I just wanted to call to say that I probably won't be back any time soon. Maybe not ever."

"Oh, Dean." Lisa says. "I think I knew you weren't coming back the minute you left. I'm not gonna lie, Ben thinks you're the scum of the Earth."

"Yeah." Dean says, "Not arguing with him here." It fucking hurts to be abandoned by anyone, even if sometime it's not their fault.

Lisa doesn't say anything right away, but the silence is comfortable, for once. Dean doesn't feel pressured to say something, to make everything better.

"Are you happy there?" Lisa asks, eventually. "You sound better now than you did the last time I talked to you. "

"I'm good." Dean says, surprised by how much he means it. "We bought a house."

"We?" Lisa asks, a little surprised. "You and..."

"Me and Castiel. Or, well, Dean McAllister and Castiel Winters."

"Oh." Lisa says, stunned. "Jesus, I don't think I saw that coming. Don't tell him I said Jesus! Damn it! Oh man."

Dean laughs, "Your secret is safe with me."

"Hey," Lisa says, "I've got to go. Kevin's going to be coming over any minute now, and he doesn't really know about you or what you do or anything. I don't want to scare him, what with the baby on the way."

"Alright," Dean says. "You have a good night. Tell Ben I'm sorry."

"Take care of yourself, Dean." Lisa says. "Come back and see us sometime. Ben will forgive you eventually, even if he doesn't understand right now."

"Yeah," Dean says. "Yeah, I'll do that."

October 7th (158 Days)

Whereas moving from the motel room to the apartment had taken all of five minutes, Dean will be amazed if they're able to move from the apartment to the house in less than five days.

"How the hell did we get all this stuff?" Dean asks. It's like everything they owned multiplied when he wasn't looking. Every time he thinks that they've gotten the last of it into boxes, he remembers two more things that they haven't even started on, yet. Then there's the weird stuff, like hangers. Do hangers go in boxes? Can't he just shove those go in a trash bag? Fuck if Dean knows.

Castiel looks up from where he's sealing up, no kidding, a tenth box of books. "Many of these books were purchased from second-hand stores," he says, still not clear on the concept of a rhetorical question. "Though some of them arrived as care packages from Bobby." This is news to Dean, who was almost always at work by the time the mail arrived.

"That son of a bitch," Dean says. "He's already buried alive in crap, and now he's looking to colonize our place, too." He doesn't realize he's said our place until it's already done and too late to take back. Thankfully, Castiel doesn't seem to notice.

Dean's always thought of the apartment as the apartment and not our apartment, but the house has both of their fake names on the deed, both of their fake social security numbers on the mortgage. He guesses there really isn't anything else to call it, but it still seems bizarrely permanent: Our place. I go to prepare a place for you.

"I would also like you to note that before we lived here, I owned only what Jimmy Novak had in his pockets three years ago," Castiel says, lifting the taped-up box like it weights next to nothing. Dean had tried that earlier and nearly thrown his back out. "I have found that once started, having possessions is addictive."

Since he's started actually collecting his own paycheck, Castiel has gone from owning four changes of clothes to owning half a Brooks Brother's. This is partially Dean's fault, as Castiel looks really hot in fitted button-downs and flat-front slacks. At least now his taste is more metrosexual than actuary chic, though the brown leather satchel he carries his lecture notes in is flat-out ridiculous. Castiel is banned from even looking at, ever again.

"Hey," Dean shouts at Castiel's retreating back, "Don't forget your purse!"

Castiel turns around and says, straight-faced, "I just want you to know that I hate you sometimes."

Dean is pretty sure that he's kidding.

October 9th (160 Days)

It takes a while for Dean to realize that despite the sheer volume of shit they own, they have absolutely no furniture.

"Dude," Dean says, staring into huge, open space of the master bedroom. "You're not supposed to buy a house before you have a coffee table."

Castiel tilts his head to the side, considering. "I did not know that was a pre-requisite." Dean can't figure out of Castiel's making some sort of wacky, academia-themed joke, or if he's being serious.

"We don't have a bed." Dean says, gesturing at the pile of pillows where the bed should be. "I am too God damn old to be sleeping on the floor."

"You are only 31," Castiel chastises.

"There's an IKEA North of Cincinnati," Dean says, "We're going. Now."

Dean spends the 50 minutes it takes them to drive to West Chester setting ground rules and working out a game plan. "For instance," he says, "Nothing wrought iron. I have banged my head on enough shitty metal bed frames to last me a lifetime."

Dean is as surprised as anyone to realize he as opinions about furniture. He's just stayed in so many terrible themed motels over the year that he has a What Not To Do list as long as the Nile.

"Under no circumstances are we buying anything that has tassels on it." Dean says, looking over at Castiel, slouched against the passenger side door. "Don't even think about it."

Castiel smirks at him like, I can buy whatever I want and you will be powerless to stop me. Which is true, but fuck if Dean will ever admit it.

"Also," Dean says, "If I see you going for a four-pound bag of votive candles I swear, I am walking."

Dead had thought Castiel might get a little overwhelmed by the whole Swedish furniture experience, but he is not prepared for the religious experience that Castiel has when they reach the showroom.

"Everything is so color coordinated," Castiel says, stopping in the middle of the walkway and refusing to move.

"That's nice, honey," Dean says, "But you're scaring the nice people."

All in all they spend four hours in IKEA and buy a couch, a coffee table, a complete bedroom set, and about 10 thousand throw pillows. Dean counts it as a victory that they escape without buying the entire store.

October 17th (168 Days)

What Dean hadn't expected when they bought the house was how hard Castiel would get into DIY. He should have seen this coming, he had ample evidence after he watched Castiel decorate the apartment with accent pieces. Dean still doesn't know what the hell a ball of twine is accentuating, though Castiel said it really brought the room together.

Walking into Home Depot is disorienting enough on a normal day, but Castiel makes it worse by caring about what Dean thinks about paint chips. No matter how many times Castiel asks, Dean will never have an opinion on the difference between ecru and ivory.

Despite Dean's complete inability to be helpful in any way, they still leave the store with a cart full of neatly labeled paint cans. When they get home, Castiel hands him a bucket of paint and tells him to take it into the living room, but Dean has no idea what he means by that. Every room in the house looks exactly the same.

"Fuck," Dean says, walking through room after room of drop-cloth covered furniture. Castiel picked out a different color of paint for every room, and the sheer size of the whole undertaking makes Dean start to panic.

All of a sudden, Dean remembers that it's been a month since he even tried to leave Ohio. When he starts to think about it, his mind floods with questions: What if he's been able to leave this whole time? Has he just been playing house with Castiel for no real reason? Christ, what if it's just Indiana he can't get to? What about Kentucky, or Pennsylvania, or West fucking Virginia?

Dean drops the bucket of paint he's holding, leaves it lying on its side where it falls in the middle of the room. He turns and walks right past an oblivious Castiel, until he gets to the Impala. Castiel follows him out of the house, sending Dean questioning looks, but not asking anything out loud.

Dean gets in the car and drives as fast as he can towards the southern border, away from Dayton and Indiana both.

His heart is pounding like crazy the whole time, and he runs through hundreds of possible conversations in his head, excuses and explanations to use when Castiel pops up in the passenger seat. Except Castiel never shows and Dean drives the whole way to Cincinnati in paranoid, expectant silence.

The Brent Spence Bridge, which spans the river between Ohio and Kentucky, proves just as impregnable as the Indiana border. Dean tries three times before giving up completely, and pulling off the highway at the first exit. He finds himself in a parking lot under a tangled mess of overpasses, staring out past the dockyards at the promised land of Anywhere But Here.

Dean's phone chirps, and he looks down to see that he has a text message from Castiel that reads, "Are you feeling alright? I cleaned up the paint. I did not know you would object so strongly to the color."

It's the most simultaneously mundane and sarcastic text message Dean has ever read in his whole life. Dean starts cracking up laughing. Either Castiel really did not notice Dean's little mid-life crisis, or he's smart enough to realize that Dean just needs to get the fuck over himself. I do not understand why you pretend that you do not want the things that you want.

Dean looks again across the river at Kentucky, says, "Never mind. You stay there, I'll stay here."

An hour later, Dean walks back in through the front door of their house, and finds Castiel with his head tilted to the side, staring at a splotch of green paint on a white wall. "I think this one looked better in the store," Castiel says.

Dean, who still does not particularly care about the God damn paint, grabs Castiel by the hips and turns him around. "I love you," he says, and kisses Castiel on the mouth. Castiel has a little smudge of paint on his face, and Dean can feel it rubbing off onto his chin. "I should have said that before."

"Oh," Castiel says. "Good. Now, please, I would like your opinion on this color."

"Whatever you want is fine," Dean says. "I promise."

October 25th (176 Days)

Dean is unpacking the last box of Castiel's books when he runs into the King James Bible that got them into this damn mess in the first place. The spine is cracked in four places, the edges of the pages dingy and gray-brown, the cover water-stained and warped. There's silver embossing that reads Placed By The Gideons in the bottom right-hand corner, which means 100% that it was lifted from one of the nicer hotels they've stayed in.

When Dean opens it up on impulse, he sees the words PROPERTY OF SAM WINCHESTER written on the inside cover in huge, slanting, little-kid handwriting.

Dean misses Sam like a phantom limb. It doesn't hurt every second of every day, but there's always the odd moment where he's in the grocery store, and he reaches for the skim milk even though he likes 2%, because Sam is watching his girlish figure. Or something stupid and funny happens at work and Dean thinks out how he'd say it to Sam when he gets home. Or Dean starts to say, "Remember that time when?" to Castiel, only he remembers that Castiel wasn't there when they killed that Wendigo, or when Dad accidentally put hot chilies in the spaghetti sauce.

Castiel understands, at least, that when Dean trails of it's because it's too painful to keep going. He doesn't make Dean talk about his feelings, mostly because he can already see into Dean's soul, but instead he just waits it out. Dean is thankful for Castiel's silences, how Dean doesn't feel pressured to fill the empty air. There are still a lot of things about being human that Castiel doesn't get, but sometimes Dean appreciates the otherworldliness of him.

Dean doesn't miss Sam in the same way he misses their parents, like a dull ache in the back of his heart. Whenever something reminds him of Sam, it's always a one-two punch of pain and anger. He's pretty sure Mom and Dad in a better place, but he knows, really knows that Sam is somewhere terrible, and Dean can't get to him. Dean's not even allowed to try.

The only thing Dean can do is live up to who Sam wanted him to be.

The last thing Sam had asked Dean to do was to live a normal life, and Dean had tried. He'd been who he thought Lisa wanted him to be, but the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes how much they'd been going through the motions. He'd become obsessed with the idea of her, the idea of fatherhood and a white picket fence kind of life. He'd treated her like a consolation prize, and no woman deserved to live under that kind of pressure, the weight of that kind of expectation.

In her own way, she'd treated him like a solider with PTSD, and though she'd listened to his stories about what he'd been through, she'd never really tried to understand. It'd been just like she said, everything he told her was a story, and that story was going to have a happy ending if it killed them both.

If Dean's being honest with himself, which is usually something he tries to avoid, he's glad he had an excuse to leave Indiana, glad for an excuse not to go back. If he's being honest with himself, he can admit that he hasn't really been trying very hard to get back to her.

So Dean had tried with Lisa, and it hadn't worked, and then he hadn't tried with Castiel and that has worked. If Castiel was trapped somewhere and something was stopping Dean from be there with him, Dean would rip the whole planet apart to get to him. Going the other way, it's not even hypothetical, Castiel has actually laid siege to hell to get to Dean. ("I would do so again, in a heartbeat," Castiel says, sometimes, his hand over the mark on Dean's shoulder. It's just one of the those things he says that leave Dean momentarily unable to breathe.)

Right now, Castiel is somewhere in the back yard, fighting a losing battle with the Weber grill that Dean picked up from the side of the road last week. Dean had tried to explain how to use the charcoal chimney and stack the coals and everything, he'd even shown Castiel a damn YouTube video, but fire still seems to confuse the fuck out of him. Dean figures he's got another 10 minutes before Castiel does something stupid, like smite the charcoal in clear view of the neighbors.

Next weekend, the University of Dayton is playing Drake, and the whole theology department is going as some sort of team-building thing. Dean doesn't really know what football has to do with religion, but hey, free tickets are free tickets. He had thought that organized sports would be another thing that he'd have to explain to death, but Castiel has an innate love of complicated rules and restrictions. He's become a Yankees fan, much to Dean's disgust, and during the summer he'd gotten into World Cup in a big, scary, fanatical way.

So Dean's got his barbeques and his football games and his house in the suburbs, only he shoved over the beautiful woman for an angel in a trench coat.

"Well, Sam," Dean says, "I don't think this is what you had in mind, but you gotta admit it's what you asked for."

November 2nd (184 Days)

They've been stuck in Ohio six months to the day when Bobby calls saying he's figured it out.

"It's some seriously powerful, old-school blood magic, really ugly stuff. It ties a person to a political boundary," Bobby says. "Mostly it was used in ancient times to exile political enemies, blah blah blah, whatever, but you can turn it around so that it keeps a person inside someplace, too."

Dean's ears perked up when he heard the words blood magic, and from the surprised look on Castiel's face, Dean figures his thoughts are running in the same direction. "Just how powerful would you have to be to cast such a spell?" Castiel asks.

"Pretty damn powerful," Bobby says. "This isn't your average witch. From what I can tell, this kind of spell hasn't been performed in over a millennia, which is what made it so effing hard to track down in the first place. So either this is someone who has a way better library card than we do, or it's someone who was around for the first time."

"Son of a bitch," Dean says. "Yeah, I think we've got a good idea of who that is."

"One more thing," Bobby says, saving the really important shit for the end like he always does. "It's gotta originate from the capital city of wherever the hell you want this thing to go down. And whoever cast this thing? Is still there. They're just as stuck as you until it gets undone."

"That's good news," Dean says, "That means that she's going as bug nuts as we are. Maybe she'll take the curse off if we just ask nicely."

Bobby snorts at that one, and Castiel says, "That is highly unlikely, Dean."

Dean shakes his head. "Thanks, Bobby," he says.

"Well, you're welcome." Bobby says, sounding way more cranky than benevolent. "It's not like I had anything better to do than to waste six months of my life on this shit."

"Your services in this matter are much appreciated," Castiel says, way less sarcastic than Bobby deserves.

Dean hangs up his phone to the comforting sound of Bobby calling them dumbasses.

"Well, mystery solved," Dean says. "But what the fuck is a Hindu goddess doing in Columbus?"

Kali is surprisingly easy to find, once they know what they're looking for. Not a lot of Midwestern women fit the description: about 5'3", smoking hot, and able to set herself on fire. They're in town for maybe half an hour before they see her flaming silhouette on a poster for a nightclub.

It's 2:30 when they find the place and the sign out front says that doors open at 5:00, so they go around the back. Dean jimmies open the stage door while Castiel stands lookout. The alleyway is surprisingly quiet, but as soon as Dean gets the door opened, he can hear the opening bars to "Fever" by Peggy Lee.

"Seriously?" He asks. Castiel shrugs.

The backstage area is dim, just enough light escaping from the stage area to illuminate the metal-edged sound equipment cases, black bent-wood chairs, and scratched-up wooden boxes. Dean trips over a hidden cable on the ground and almost puts his hand through a fabric screen, Castiel grabbing him around the waist just in time.

A woman starts singing onstage, and Dean barely recognizes the voice through the sound dampening fabric and the distortion of the sound system, but it's definitely Kali.

"Ok, Rhett," she says as the music cuts out abruptly, "That sounds good."

Dean can hear the click of heels against the hardwood getting louder, and before he really has time to react, she's walking through the wings right towards them. She stops short when she sees Dean, and it's dark enough that for a second he hopes that she won't recognize him.

"Oh," she says, "It you." There goes that idea. "And you brought another angel this time. Lovely."

Dean had thought on the drive over that the spell might have been the first step in some elaborate revenge plan, and that Kali was still pissed at them for what happened at the motel. He'd more or less convinced himself that she'd set this whole thing up to kill them, but right now, she just looks bored to see them.

"Howdy," Dean says.

"Look," she says, "I only have forty-five minutes for lunch." Dean takes an involuntary step back, remembering what was on the menu the last time they met up.

"Hey, Lady-" Dean starts.

"Ugh," Kali says, looking at Dean like he's something she'd find on the bottom of her shoe. "I didn't mean you. I meant, if you want to talk, fine, but we're going to have to do it over food."

Kali wants Vietnamese, so they walk to a place down the block from the club. Dean doesn't have a God damn clue what anything is on the menu except for the French fries, which seem weird and out of place and are almost certainly awful. When the waitress comes by, Dean lets Castiel order for him, and Kali raises a eyebrow, but thank God doesn't say anything.

"You boys sure took your time," she says after the waitress leaves. "I cast that thing ages ago." She looks at Dean like he's the especially slow child in class, doesn't even make eye contact with Castiel. Dean pretty much hates Kali completely. He'd rather be doing almost anything else in the world besides talking to her, but she's the only thing on the whole God damn planet who can take the spell off.

"Well," Dean says, "You didn't make it easy to figure out."

"I guess I didn't. Sorry about that," Kali says, not even remotely apologetic. Dean looks over at Castiel for some sympathy, like, can you believe this bitch?, but Castiel is staring straight forward, rapt. Dean guesses this is the first time he's spent quality time with a non-Judeo-Christian deity. Dean's met enough of them to know they're pretty much all dicks.

"Hey," Dean says. "I just came here to find out one thing, and that's what the hell is going on. Since we already know that you did it, I just want to know why."

"Loki," she says. Son of a bitch.

"Gabriel." Castiel nods and says, "Our situation is consistent with the things that he found enjoyable."

"The Trickster?" Dean asks. "But he's dead. Actually dead."

"Yes," Castiel says. "He is." So it's at least comforting to know the Trickster's not faking it this time.

Kali says, "After we escaped from the motel, I found a message he had left for me. He asked me for a favor." Which is perfect, it is just fucking perfect. Dean's whole life has been fucked over because some perverse, dead angel would have thought it was funny. And, oh God, Kali probably watched the whole video.

Dean shudders and says, "So what you're saying is, even though he's dead, the Trickster is still fucking with us?"

Kali doesn't even blink. "Yes."

Dean shouts, "Jesus Christ!"

"Dean." Castiel looks disapproving about the blasphemy thing, again, but Dean is just too busy seething with anger to remember this time.

"Why the hell did he trap us in Ohio?" Dean asks, because it's as good a question as any.

"I do not know. Loki specified the location and that it was non-negotiable." She pauses, looking annoyed. "He neglected to mention that I would be trapped here, too."

"Well, take it off," Dean says. "Make it stop."

"Fine." She says, "Loki wanted me to leave it up as long as it would take for you to learn some sort of lesson. Please, tell me you've learned it so I can go home. The food here is terrible."

"Lady," Dean pleads, "I will tell you anything you want to hear, as long as I can tell you from Indiana."

"Then we have a deal," she says. Dean is afraid for a half a second that he's going to have to kiss her to make it official, but Kali just looks impatiently towards the waitress, who walks up carrying plates and plates of unrecognizable food.

Dean pulls a couple of twenties out of his wallet, nods to Kali, and says, "We'll take ours to go."

November 3rd (185 Days)

Dean is out in front of the house, fixing the busted-ass lawnmower he picked up off Craigslist while Castiel is raking leaves with Zen, monk-like concentration. Dean's been waiting for the phone to ring all day, but is still startled enough to drop his wrench when it goes off in his pocket.

Kali says, sounding tinny and far away, "It's done. And I never want to see you again."

She hangs up before Dean can say ditto.

Five minutes later, Dean and Castiel are in the Impala, peeling out of the driveway and headed due West.

It doesn't occur to Dean until they're 10 minutes from the border that if he can leave Ohio, then Castiel can leave Ohio, and by extension, the entire mortal plane. The idea pisses Dean off, that just like last time, just like when Dean had needed Castiel before, he's gonna take the easy out and go back to Heaven, leaving Dean alone with a broken lawnmower and a 30 year mortgage.

Dean floors it the whole rest of the way to the Welcome To Indiana sign, blowing past it too quickly to read. The second they cross the border, Dean hears the sound of wings and feels a familiar rush of air that he hasn't experienced in a long time. He doesn't look at the passenger seat, doesn't want to actually see it empty, though he knows it is.

Dean pulls over at the first rest stop he comes across, jerks the car into an open spot in the parking lot. He pushes the car door open, steps out and stares out across the endless fields of rural Indiana. Dean doesn't even have any real reason to be in Indiana anymore, but it's still fucking satisfying to actually do it, to actually get here. Even if it means the end of everything he's spent the last six months building. He doesn't move for a long time, watching the sun sink slowly behind the long, flat horizon.

Sometime after sunset, Dean startles, feeling Castiel settle in next to him, the press of his arm preternaturally warm against Dean's side.

Dean wants to say, You came back? Are you staying? Instead, he stays completely still for a long time, taking in the moment in case it's the last time.

"So," Dean eventually asks, breathing in the frigid Indiana night, "What do you want to do? You taking off?"

"I want to go home," Castiel says, looking up at the night sky.

Something seizes inside Dean's chest when he hears that, and he can't catch his breath for a second. "Uh," he gasps through the tightness in his throat, "I guess you've missed it, uh, being gone so long. Want to make sure the other angels haven't, you know, wrecked up the place."

"No, Dean, you do not understand me," Castiel says, stepping back. "I want to go home." He gets into the car and sits in the passenger seat, looking expectantly at Dean through the window.

The steel bands that had clamped their way around Dean's chest suddenly ease, and he takes one last, long, deep breath of cold, crisp Indiana air.

Dean gets back into the front seat of the Impala, turns the engine over.

"Yeah," he says, "Me too. Let's go home."

Dean gets back on the highway and flips around through the median, right past the no U-turn sign. Together they drive 90 all the way back to Ohio, the heart of it all.