"This is a stupid idea, Sam." Dean growled, shoving his finger in Sam's face. "Not to mention dangerous, reckless, and freakin' idiotic."

Sam rolled his eyes and put his hands on his hips, making what Dean had come to label his "pre-teen bitch" pose.

"Come on, Dean. You and Cas can't just sit here at Bobby's and wait for me to come back from hunts. We agreed that going on separate hunts would be good for us, but so far I'm the only one going on any. You and Cas need to get out there."

And ok, so maybe Sam had a point. Since they'd avoided the end of the world and sent Lucifer back to the hellhole he'd climbed out of, Sam, Dean, and the newly earth-bound Castiel had started clean-up duty. Ganking as many evil sons of bitches that didn't get sent back to hell and taking care of the usual nasties that would always be lurking around. Sam had sat Dean down pretty early on, bringing up all of their codependency issues and other psychological mumbo jumbo that Dean didn't much care for. He'd suggested that now that the weight of the world wasn't resting on their shoulders, they should take a break - a healthy break - and try handling some cases on their own. Just a few cases here and there, nothing major and nothing too long term. Dean had agreed. It had seemed nice at the time to envision a life for himself that didn't revolve around keeping Sammy safe. What he didn't expect was for that obsession to be replaced by a similar one – keeping Castiel safe.

Since Castiel had stood in front of God and asked to stay on Earth, more and more of his angelic powers had started to fade away. Each day he was becoming increasingly human, and that terrified Dean more than he'd like to admit. It had been easy having an angel on the team. Dean didn't really have to worry about him too much, since the guy could be stabbed, shot, hell even burned alive and would come out ok. But now….well, now things were different.

It was ok when it was the three of them hunting. Sam and Dean could take the brunt of the attacks and there was always an extra pair of eyes to keep a look out for Cas. When Sam had taken his first solo case, Dean had meant to take Cas on one, too. But he had held back. He was worried that he wouldn't be enough back-up, that Cas would get hurt in a way that he couldn't snap back from. So he had come up with excuses, told Cas that Bobby needed help at home or that he still had more human lessons to learn before they could head out on their own.

That had been six months ago. Since then, Sam had gone on twelve solo hunts while Dean and Cas hadn't gone on a single one.

It's not like Dean didn't have the urge to hunt. 'Cause he did, he really did. But he didn't think heading out alone with Cas was the best thing at the moment. And sure, he could have left Cas at Bobby's, headed out on alone. He'd done it before, back when Sam was at college, and he could do it again. But at the moment, that didn't really seem like such a great option either. Truth be told, Dean didn't really like being away from Cas. Period.

So they'd taken little breaks at Bobby's, respites from the generally depressing and dangerous life they lived. It had been great at first. Dean was too busy fixing cars or teaching Cas the mechanics of a human life to even miss hunting. He found his days were filled with just the right amount of nothingness to keep him satisfied. Happy even. It was a feeling he'd never known before.

But then came that familiar ache. That feeling in his gut that craved the hunt – the search, the adrenaline, the fear that reminded him he was still alive and kicking. Once he started to feel that ache, he'd become antsy, annoyed. He'd repeatedly snap at Bobby, at Castiel, and altogether be entirely unreasonable to deal with. Then Sam would get back, they'd head out on another hunt, and the ache would fade. But recently, more and more time would pass before Sam returned and it was becoming clear to everyone that things needed to change.

Which brought Dean up to this moment: Sam telling Dean all the things he already knew but had tried to ignore. Sure Sam was right, but that didn't mean that Dean had to like it.

Dean looked down at the floor and shook his head. "I know that, Sam. I just think..."

"What? That he needs more time? It's been almost a year, Dean. It's time." Sam ran his hands through his hair, took a step closer and lowered his voice. "He's not some clueless civilian. He was an angel, Dean, still is…kind of. You can't keep treating him like he can't take care of himself. He's got to learn sometime."

Dean sighed and shut his eyes. He fucking hated when Sam was right.

Sam brought his hand up to Dean's shoulder and gave him a slight squeeze. "Look, I know that he means a lot to you."

Dean's eyes shot open at that, his brow furrowed as he gave Sam his best "what the fuck?" face. Because seriously, what the fuck?

"I know you, Dean," Sam continued, unfazed. "You're worried about him. About how he'll do on a hunt without both of us there. He'll be fine. You'll both be fine."

Dean grumbled and knocked Sam's hand off his shoulder.

"You're going on a hunt." Sam stated as he turned around and walked out the room.

Dean flipped him the finger. "Bitch,"


As it turned out, when Sam had said that Dean and Castiel were going on a hunt, he didn't mean a week from now or even later that week. He meant the next day.

He'd cornered Dean and Castiel in Bobby's living room. They were just sitting down to watch Evil Dead 2, a classic horror movie that was a must-see in Dean's opinion. Yesterday, they had watched the first installment of the Evil Dead series. It was all a part of Dean Winchester's Introduction to Humanity: 101. Cas had seemed puzzled at the appeal of the movie – the cheap graphics and overly gory nature – but at the end he had stated he liked it. A fact that was due entirely to the portrayal of the protagonist, Ash. It turned out Cas was a Bruce Campbell fan, an admission that had made Dean grin like an idiot.

So when Sam sat down on the coffee table with his laptop, blocking their view of the TV, Dean had been less than pleased. Especially since the minute Sam sat down he started rambling about a hunt nearby. Dean had been looking forward to seeing Cas' reaction to Bruce Campbell in the sequel and Sam was effectively preventing that from happening. Dean shifted restlessly in his seat as he craned his next from side to side, desperately attempting to see past Sam's gargantuan body. He was purposefully trying to ignore Sam and focus his attention, instead, on the movie. Not that he could follow along anyway with Ginormo in the way.

Dean rolled his eyes, exhaling loudly as he paused the movie. "Dude, you're in the way."

Dean waved the remote at Sam, signaling for him to move, but Sam just shot him bitchface #431 and continued talking.

"So, it seems simple enough. Regular salt and burn kind of job. Shouldn't take you guys long at all." Sam nodded at Castiel, who had been listening intently.

"What's a regular salt and burn kind of job?" Dean said, his annoyance clear in his voice.

"What? You weren't listening?"

"No, Sam, I wasn't listening." Dean gestured emphatically between him and Castiel. "We were trying to watch a movie."

"Sam was informing us about a hunt, Dean." Castiel stated calmly, placing his hand on Dean's knee.

Dean's eyes shot down to where Castiel's hand rested on his knee. He looked over at Sam with a sheepish grin. The touching thing was relatively new. For the better part of the last six months, Dean and Castiel had slipped into a somewhat domestic life together. They had morning rituals and habits, a basic rhythm to their lives that they'd grown comfortable with. They were relaxed around each other, and Dean found that that relaxation often manifested itself in touching, small contacts of hands and skin. A brush of fingers as they washed dishes, a hand on the shoulder while one leaned over to read the paper, the touch of thighs pressed up against each other as they sat closer than necessary on the couch. All of this had happened unintentionally. They just...fit. Dean didn't even realize he'd been doing it until Bobby had given him a rather pointed look when Dean had picked an eyelash off of Cas' cheek. He'd realized then that somewhere along the line, this thing between him and Cas had shifted. Turned into something more. But being Dean Winchester, of course, he pushed it down. Ignored it. He liked how they were together and he didn't want to screw it up by freaking out or over-thinking.

Dean cleared his throat, shifting his gaze to Castiel. He could see Sam smirk out of the corner of his eye and resisted the urge to groan.

"Yeah, I realize that, Cas."

Castiel's hand remained on Dean's knee. "It appears to be a restless spirit. Three deaths over the last two years in the same apartment. No sign of forced entry. Sam suggested that we pose as renters in order to gain access to the apartment. We can stay there, experience the supernatural occurrences for ourselves, and then work out the most effective way to deal with the situation."

"You want to stay in the apartment where three people have died?" Dean exclaimed, his eyes darting between Sam and Castiel.

Sam leaned forward, opened his mouth to talk, but Castiel cut him off. "It is the most practical approach, Dean." His thumb made soothing circles on Dean's knee. "It is the same approach you would've taken with Sam and it is the best way to gain as much information as possible."

Dean wiped his hand over his mouth and leaned back. He was getting sick of everyone else being right today.

"Alright." He sighed out. "We'll head out in a couple days."

Sam balked at that. "A couple days? No, Dean. You and Cas are heading out tomorrow. Morning. I already set up a meeting with the apartment building's manager. She's expecting you at noon and it's a three hour drive."

Dean gaped at Sam, then squinted his eyes at his brother. He was just about to tell Sam where he could shove the meeting when Castiel stood, stated, "We will be ready tomorrow morning," and walked out of the room.

Sam smirked, shot Dean a satisfied look and closed his laptop.

Dean punched Sam on the shoulder – hard – and left in search of beer. If he was going to go out on his first solo hunt with Castiel tomorrow, he was going to need to drink tonight.

The next morning, Dean woke up with a familiar pounding in his head. He groaned as he reluctantly sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed to the floor. The clock on the nightstand read 7:30.

Dean wiped his hand over his face and groaned again. The last time he'd gotten up this early was during the last hunt the three of them had been on together. That was weeks ago. It still surprised him how easily he could shift into "home" mode after a hunt - sleeping in, waking up late, lazing around. It was the transition back into the hunting mode that he didn't find as easy, nowadays.

Dean pushed off the bed, shuffled his way out the door and into the bathroom. He could hear Sam, Castiel, and Bobby's muffled voices as they talked downstairs. Castiel had had no problem getting up this morning. He had poked his head into Dean's room a half hour ago to tell Dean that he was packing the car and that Dean should probably start thinking about getting up. Dean had responded with a grunt and went right back to sleep. He turned on the shower and brushed his teeth, letting the water from the shower heat up as he continued his usual morning routine. By the time he stepped into the shower the water was hot and he let it beat against his skin, soothing away some of his tension.

He made it downstairs, fully packed and clean, at 7:50. Castiel greeted him with a cup of coffee and a donut, one with frosting and sprinkles. Dean's favorite. Castiel informed Dean that the car was packed and that he was ready to go whenever Dean was. Dean took a large bite of his donut and nodded.

As he turned to look over at Bobby and Sam, he took a big gulp of his coffee. "What, did you two get up just to send us off?"

Bobby picked up his cup of coffee and began wheeling out of the room. "Just wanted to make sure you two idjits were actually going." He was halfway out of the door when Dean started reaching for another donut. Right before Dean's hand could close around the frosty goodness, Bobby yelled back, "And the donuts stay here."

Dean frowned, pouting like a kid whose favorite toy was taken away. Sam laughed and patted Dean on the shoulder.

"Good luck, and call if you need anything." He continued laughing as he exited the room.

"Bitch." Dean grumbled. He finished off his coffee and donut and looked at Cas, whose back was turned to Dean.


Castiel turned around with a thermos and a plastic container full of frosted sprinkled donuts.

"For the road." He stated simply.

Dean grinned, put his left hand on Castiel's shoulder and pointed at him with his right. "And that's why I like you best." He squeezed Castiel's shoulder before dropping his hand down to his side.

Castiel smiled back at Dean and for a minute Dean thought that maybe everything would be all right. Maybe the worry of going on solo hunts with Castiel was worth it, if it meant more coffees and packed donuts. More smiles in the early hours of the morning. Maybe.

"So you're a professor Mr…" Mrs. Cregg, the short, stout and cheerful building manager, glanced down at their application. "Crichton, Castiel Crichton. A professor of religious studies. Oh my, well I love a man who knows his scripture." She laughed, swatting Castiel lightly on the arm. "Oh and Mr. Shepherd, I must say it's so nice to have a doctor in the building. And a top surgeon at that."

Dean's eyes widened. Sam had made him a surgeon with the last name Shepherd. He knew he'd never live down the Dr. Sexy MD thing.

"So you're here to rent out apartment 401. You do know that it's a one bedroom apartment, right?" Mrs. Gibson's voice lowered at the mention of the one bedroom, like she was sharing a secret with them she didn't want anyone else to know. "We do have some lovely two bedroom apartments that are available for rent."

Dean put on his best fake smile and chipper voice. "Gosh, that sounds great. But we really fell in love with 401." He glanced over at Cas, who was standing rather awkwardly at his side. Castiel looked over at Dean and met his eyes. He smiled slightly as he inched closer to Dean so that their arms were touching. Dean's hand twitched, bumping against Castiel's. For the briefest moment their pinkies caught.

Mrs. Cregg's eyes darted back and forth between Dean and Castiel, moving from their faces to their hands to their faces again. She smiled wide and continued. "Well golly gee! And I just want you two to know that we have always prided ourselves on accepting applications from people of any race, religion, or sexual orientation."

Dean barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He bit his lip, holding back the smart-ass remark that came to mind, and reminded himself that shooting the woman probably wouldn't be the best way to go about things. Luckily, Cas chose this moment to jump into the conversation and interrogate the cheerfully obnoxious Mrs. Cregg about the recent deaths.

"We're aware that there have been a number of deaths recently in the apartment." Apparently Castiel still needed to work on his subtlety. "Can you tell us anything about how they occurred?"

Mrs. Cregg's face dropped at the mention of the deaths. Her lips fell into a sad smile. "Unfortunate thing that happened. Those poor, poor people. But I can assure you two that security has been amped up since the last death. No one is allowed in the building without going through the security guard first. And every visitor has to be okayed by the residents themselves. Whoever was able to get into the building last time to commit those unspeakable acts won't be getting in again. You have my word."

Yeah, except the thing that killed those people didn't come from the outside, and it sure as hell wasn't going to have any trouble getting pass a security guard.

"Did the residents of the apartment ever report anything odd or strange occurring?"

"Odd or Strange?" Her face scrunched as she paused to think about Castiel's question. "No…I don't think so. Maybe something about scratching noises and thuds." Her face smoothed and she instantly perked up, a wide smile shaping her lips. "But the apartment's had a full look over since then and I can assure you that it is in tip top shape."

"Great." Dean said, a little louder than necessary. They weren't going to get much information from her. She was too hell-bent on renting the apartment to give any unbiased information. They'd have better luck with the police reports. Besides, Dean hated people who said things like "tip top" and "golly gee." He wanted to leave, go upstairs, and get as far away from Mrs. Cregg as possible.

Castiel placed his hand on Dean's back. "Are there any forms you would like us to sign? We would like to go upstairs and unpack as soon as possible."

A small smile crept on to Dean's face. Sometimes Castiel could be awesome.

The apartment was actually pretty nice. For a death trap. The kitchen was small, but the living room and bedroom were huge. The walls in the living room were covered in yellow floral wallpaper. A bit tacky for Dean's taste but he'd stayed in worse. The bathroom was decently sized and there were two large closets, plenty of room for Dean to store his guns. The large bookcases in the living room were also a nice touch. Castiel could store all of his books there and….OK, when did Dean start scoping out apartments on a hunt like they were possible homes for him and Cas?

Dean shook his head and cleared his throat, suddenly self-conscious. Even though he knew that Castiel could no longer read his mind, he still felt uncomfortable thinking such dangerous thoughts in front of him.

"The furniture's a nice touch," Dean stated as he ran his hand along the auburn couch. "….if not a little creepy." Turns out the recently deceased Mr. Lyman didn't have any family. So rather then trash his furniture, Mrs. Cregg thought it would be better to keep the apartment furnished in hopes that it would sweeten the deal for potential renters. "At least we don't have to sleep on the floor."

Castiel nodded and pulled out a file from his bag. "Sam hacked into the police records from Bobby's house." He laid out each case folder on the dining room table, placing the photographs taken at each of the scenes on top of their specific reports. Castiel pointed at each picture as he spoke. "Each body was found in a different location in the apartment. Mr. Noblet was found in his bed, Mr. Skinner in the bathroom, and Mr. Lyman on the couch in the living room. Each man was strangled."

"Ok, so we're probably looking for someone who was strangled in this apartment and likes to dole out some nasty revenge. Kill them like it was killed."

"Most likely, yes. It also has a preference for males." Castiel picked up a paper and handed it to Dean. "That is a list of all of the occupants of this apartment over the past twenty-five years, when the building was built. According to the paper, this apartment was owned for twenty-three of those years by a Mrs. Scully."

"Scully? Did she have red hair and a partner named Mulder?" Dean chuckled, clearly amused and proud of himself for making the reference.

Castiel raised his eyebrow. "No. She was single, Dean."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Nevermind." They really needed to work on Castiel's understanding of pop culture references.

"Mrs. Scully occupied this apartment until two years ago when she was murdered by strangulation. Since then, there have been four occupants. The first was Mr. Noblet, then a female named Tara Rosenberg, followed by Mr. Skinner and then Mr. Lyman. Each male that has stayed here has not lived after his second week."

"Ok, so sweet old Mrs. Scully gets killed by some crazy guy." Dean paced back and forth as he spoke. "Her spirit sticks around protecting her apartment and killing any man that tries to live here. Tara wasn't killed because she's a woman and Scully didn't see her as a threat. Sounds pretty cut and dry to me. Just need to find out where the old bat is buried."

Castiel gathered the papers on the dining table into a pile and stuck them back into the folder. "We should speak with Tara Rosenberg as well. She may not have fallen victim to Mrs. Scully, but she might have important information. It would be unwise to overlook this lead."

"Yea, sure, Good idea. But first…" Dean pushed the sofa and coffee table to the wall, clearing an area in the middle of the living room where Mr. Lyman had placed a large rug. Once the area was cleared, he stood in the middle of the carpet and gestured for Castiel to come closer. Castiel walked slowly over toward Dean, a confused expression on his face. When Castiel was standing in front of him, Dean continued, "First, I want you to hit me."

Castiel tilted his head. "Dean?"

"Come on, Cas, I want you to try to hit me, and I'm going to block your attack."

"This is…training?"

Dean nodded and did his best matrix impression as he told Cas to "Bring it on."

Instead of lunging toward Dean, Castiel remained where he stood. He brought his hand up, signaling for Dean to stop. "This is not necessary."

"The hell it isn't. You need to learn how to fight, Cas. I know we've done some basic training before, but nothing major since we've been at Bobby's. It's just the two of us now and I need to know you can take of yourself. And me. Hell, you're my back-up, and we've got to keep this pretty face unharmed." Dean ended with a wink.

Castiel looked down and sighed. "You're worried about me. About how I will fair as a human during hunts."

Dean dropped his hands at his side. Something inside him clenched tight. "Yes. Cas, I…" Dean's sentence was cut off by a sharp punch to the face. He staggered back. "What the fuck."

Castiel came toward him and kicked, his foot coming in contact with Dean's stomach. Dean fell back onto the couch and stayed there for a few moments, stunned at Castiel's sudden attack. When Castiel took a step forward again, his motions precise and steady, Dean shook himself, smirked, and pushed himself up, lunging at Castiel. He swung at him with his right arm only to have Castiel dodge his fist and kick Dean in the back of the knee. Dean fell with a thud, face first onto the rug. Castiel was quick to position himself on top of Dean and grab Dean's hands, tugging them to hold Dean's wrists against his back. Castiel's hands were hot and strong against Dean's wrists, his groin was pressed firmly into Dean's ass. His feet were pressed tight on either side of Dean's legs, effectively keeping Dean in place.

Dean struggled underneath Castiel, but quickly found that he could not move.

"I told you that it was not necessary, Dean." Castiel's words came out hot on Dean's neck. His forehead rested against the back of Dean's head and Dean could feel Castiel's nose brushing against his hair.

Dean stifled a moan as he pushed back against Castiel. He could hear Castiel suck in a breath and moan softly in his ear. Castiel loosened his grip on Dean's wrists, allowing Dean to free his arms as he inched his legs away from Dean's body. Dean turned over so that he was lying on his back, their groins pressed firmly against each other. Their gazes met and held, each dazed by the effect the other's body was having on them. As Castiel settled his hands to rest on Dean's hips, Dean stretched his arms over his head, unsure of what to do with them.

Dean was the first to break the silence. "So, I guess I should go talk to that Tara girl."

Castiel blinked, swallowed. "Yes." He licked his lips. "I will research where the body is buried."

Though they'd decided on what to do next, neither of them made an effort to move. They continued to stare at each other, their gazes breaking only briefly to stare at the other's lips. A loud honk of a car horn made Castiel jump, startling them out of their trance, and Dean quickly found himself without 175 pounds of ex-angel sitting on top of him.

Castiel headed straight for the door, grabbing the records on his way out, and closed the door with a slight bang. Dean stayed on the floor for several minutes, trying to figure out what the hell happened and when it could happen again.

Dean returned to the apartment three hours later. His meeting with Tara had only taken thirty minutes. Like they'd expected, Tara reported no strange occurrences in the apartment. In fact, she stressed that the apartment had had a warm, welcoming feeling that always made her feel relaxed and safe. Her boyfriend, on the other hand, had always felt uneasy in the place and had apparently refused to spend the night. The only reason she'd moved out was because he'd proposed and insisted they live at his place. Though Dean doubted she'd have anything crucial to add, he'd given her his number and asked her to call if she thought of anything new.

He'd driven around after that, trying to clear his head and prepare himself for the awkwardness that was likely to meet him back at the apartment. Him and Cas had never gotten that…physical before and while he wasn't at all surprised that he was attracted to Castiel, the intensity of it caught him off guard. Dean had been rock hard the minute Castiel had pressed into his back and he could feel Castiel's matching hardness press into him. He'd been overwhelmed by the urge to grab Castiel, flip him, and fuck him till he saw stars. But he needed to talk to Cas first. As out of character as it might seem coming from Dean Winchester, Notorious Sex Fiend and One Night Stand Guy, he really didn't want his first time with Cas to be just a jumble of adrenaline. They were stuck with each other. For good. And Dean wanted this to work. He needed this to work. So if it meant waiting for sex, well… he could do that.

When Dean opened the door to the apartment, Castiel was sitting on the couch reading the latest book in his David Sedaris collection, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." Dean found that he had been wrong when it came to guessing what kind of books Castiel would like. He'd figured Cas would go for the encyclopedia kind of books, full of boring facts and philosophical treatises. As it turned out, Castiel loved to read witty satires and humorous self-deprecating stories, of which Sedaris' were his favorite. Castiel looked up from his book, shut it, and stood before walking toward Dean.

Dean closed the door and rubbed the back of his neck. He figured now was as good a time as any to bring up what had happened earlier. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He began speaking as he turned to face Castiel.

"Look, Cas, about…"

"I found where Mrs. Scully is buried." Castiel cut him off mid sentence. He had a tendency to do that.

Dean's eyes shot up. "Where?"

"At the Arcadia Cemetery, plot SR 819. It is deep enough within the cemetery for security to not be an issue. The cemetery closes at 7. We should leave after then."

"Ok, yeah. We'll head out at 8." Dean scratched his chin and looked down. "Look, Cas, about before…"

"How did your meeting with Tara go?"

Dean sighed. Sam might think that Dean was clueless, but he was wrong. Dean could take a hint. Castiel did not want to talk about what had happened between them, and Dean didn't feel like pushing it. They had a hunt to finish and he didn't need them acting weird around each other, especially when it could get one of them hurt. So he decided to drop it. For now.

"Fine. She didn't have much to say. Said she never experienced anything weird here but that her boyfriend never wanted to stay over. Big surprise there. Gave her my number just in case, but I doubt it'll go anywhere." Dean paused. "What's that smell?"

Castiel walked past Dean into the kitchen and opened the oven. "I purchased a pizza." He stated as he pulled the pizza box out of the oven, where he'd been storing it to keep it warm. He shut the oven door with his foot and placed the pizza on the dining room table.

Dean opened the box, his eyes widening, drool practically dripping from his mouth. On the table was a crispy Sicilian supreme pizza with extra pepperoni. It was a thing of beauty. Dean hadn't had a pizza like this in ages, and just a few weeks ago he'd been telling Cas how much he wanted one…that son of a bitch.

Dean grinned and placed his left arm around Castiel's shoulders, pulling him in close. He picked up a slice of pizza and handed it to Castiel. "Now this is the best pizza you will ever eat. The perfect combination of thick crust with a crispy edge, and just the right amount of toppings to form the perfect blend. You've got to try this, Cas."

Castiel closed his eyes as he slowly brought the pizza up to his mouth. Dean licked his lips as he watched Castiel bite down on the pizza, the smallest piece of cheese hanging out of the corner of his mouth. And ok, so maybe waiting was going to be harder than he thought.

Dean swallowed, his voice coming out low, husky. "You like that?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Dean realized how dirty they sounded. He cleared his throat. "I mean, good huh?"

Castiel opened his eyes and looked contemplatively at the pizza. He nodded once. "It is very good."

"Told you you'd like it." Dean slapped Castiel on the shoulder and moved away, grabbing a slice for himself. He picked up the box and started walking toward the couch. "Come on, we got a couple hours before we have to head out. I know a channel that's showing a Dr. Sexy MD marathon."

Salting and burning the bones of Mrs. Scully went off without a hitch. No security guards, no overzealous civilians, and no restless spirits trying to kill them. By the time they'd returned to the apartment, Dean was feeling pretty good. He'd never had a hunt run so smoothly before.

Famous last words.

As soon as they stepped into the apartment, Dean found himself thrown halfway across the room by an extremely pissed off Mrs. Scully.

"Dean!" Castiel yelled. He bent down, ripping open the duffle bag to grab the shotgun inside. He yanked it out and swung it around to where Mrs. Scully stood only to find the spot empty. Castiel blinked, looked over at Dean who was slumped on the floor. Before he could take a step forward, make sure Dean was unharmed, he abruptly found himself being thrown back. The pull made him drop the shotgun and it fell with a clang at his feet. Mrs. Scully appeared in front of him, pinning him to the wall and wrapping her hands tightly around Castiel's neck.

"You did this to me." She snarled at him. Her hands squeezed tighter.

Castiel gasped for air. One hand came to wrap around Mrs. Scully's wrist while the other arm flailed at his side as he tried to grasp for something – anything – that would help fight her off. Castiel's vision started to darken, tiny spurts of white light bursting in his eyes, when the bang from the shotgun jolted him out of it and suddenly the pressure around his neck disappeared. Mrs. Scully vanished and out of the corner of his eye he saw Dean holding a shotgun. Castiel slid to the ground, clutching his throat as he leaned forward and fought to control his breathing.

Dean rushed over to Castiel and knelt at his side, his hand coming up to rest on Castiel's back. "You ok?"

Castiel coughed, nodded to Dean that he was all right, and reached for the shotgun he'd dropped. "She might come back." He stood with Dean's help and positioned the gun, ready to shoot.

"What the hell?" Dean whispered roughly as they slowly started to move from room to room, conducting a thorough search of the apartment for signs of the reappearing ghost. "We burned the bones, Cas. It was supposed to be Bye Bye Birdie. What the hell is she still doing here?"

"Her spirit must be connected to something else." Castiel voice was hoarse from the attack, but he otherwise seemed completely unaffected by his run-in with the ghost. After searching the apartment with no sight of Mrs. Scully, they moved back into the living room and lowered their shotguns. "We must have missed something, Dean."

"Yea. Any ideas?"

"I don't know. This apartment has been occupied several times since her death. Any piece of DNA should have been gone years ago. We should speak with the building manager. She might be able to help."

Dean nodded. "Until then, what are we going to do about sleep? We might wake up with good ole Mrs. Scully's hands around our necks."

Castiel glanced toward the bedroom. "We could make a salt circle around the bed and sleep there tonight. At least then we would be together in case of an attack." Castiel's face was relaxed. He showed no sign of being affected by the implications of his suggestion. While all Dean could think about were the implications.

They worked together efficiently, spreading salt around the bed and doorways, gathering their various weapons to place within arms reach – shotguns, packets of salt, iron rods – anything they could use against Mrs. Scully's spirit. When they were satisfied with their set up, Dean and Castiel settled into bed and sat with their backs against the headboard.

The bedside lamp was still on, and in the soft yellow glow Dean could see the bruises forming along Castiel's neck. He turned his body so that he was facing Castiel and lifted his hand to run his thumb along the bruise.

Castiel spoke quietly. "I am used to being injured Dean."

"I know," Dean whispered, his thumb continuing its steady trace of the purple skin.

"I have been injured on hunts before. Hunts that we've all gone on together." Castiel brought his hand up to stop Dean's movement. "It is not your responsibility to keep me safe."

And to some extent Dean knew that. He knew that Castiel was his own person and that there was no way he could protect him all the time. He'd had to learn that the hard way through Sam. But knowing it and accepting it were two different things.

Seeing Castiel get hurt had scared Dean, but seeing Castiel get up right after, shotgun steady in hand, had lifted an enormous weight off his shoulders. For months, Dean had been worried that Castiel wouldn't be able to handle himself on a solo hunt. That he'd get hurt and it'd be all Dean's fault. But the training today and their encounter with the ghost had proved that Castiel could handle himself, had proved that maybe Cas was just as built for the hunter's life as Dean was. Dean was surprised at how relieved he felt. Relieved that Castiel wasn't just another responsibility, another person he had to take care of and keep safe. Castiel could push just as hard as Dean could pull.

Dean looked up from Castiel's neck to see Castiel staring at him, a pleading look in his eyes. His hand was still wrapped around Dean's wrist, and there was something in the way his grip tightened when Dean met his eyes that made Dean moan.

The realization was quick, swift: Cas wanted Dean just as much as Dean wanted Cas.

Dean licked his lips. Fuck waiting. He leaned over and kissed Castiel's bruised flesh, his lips dragging along the marks left by the spirit's hands. He breathed into Castiel's neck and sucked lightly. The pressure of Dean's mouth against already sensitive skin made Castiel shiver. Castiel released Dean's hand, threading his fingers through Dean's hair as he leaned into Dean.

"Dean." Castiel breathed out.

Dean's right hand moved from where it rested against his leg to knead at the bulge in Castiel's pants. Castiel sucked in a breath and whimpered, his left hand moving to cover Dean's. And as Castiel squeezed, pressing Dean's hand down harder, Dean wondered how he ever could have lived without this.

Dean woke up the next morning to an unfamiliar feeling. Usually, the morning after left him feeling anxious. Anxious for the woman to leave or for the other shoe to drop. This time he just felt at peace. It was a strange feeling, to say the least.

He stretched his arm over to the other side of the bed only to find it empty. Dean rubbed his eyes and sat up.

"Cas?" He called out to the empty bedroom, his voice still thick with sleep.

Castiel entered the room with a mug in hand. He was fully clothed in a gray button-down shirt and jeans, his hair the only indication of what they'd done the night before. Strands of hair stuck out at odd angles and it looked distinctly like a portion of it had been grabbed and pulled…oh yea, it had been a good night.

Castiel extended his arm, offering the cup to Dean. "I made coffee."

"Thanks." Dean took a sip and hummed out his approval. Hazelnut. His favorite. Cas seemed to be on a roll lately.

Castiel sat down on the side of the bed near Dean's feet, facing the hunter. "We should speak to the building manager. Ask her if she knows about any of Mrs. Scully's belongings that might still be in the apartment." Castiel's eyes skimmed Dean's legs, and after a moment he scooted further onto the bed, pulling his legs up onto the mattress. He stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned back on his hands, mirroring Dean's position at the opposite end of the bed, Dean's feet near Castiel's hips, and Castiel's feet near Dean's.

Dean bumped his foot absently against Castiel's thigh. "We should do a thorough search ourselves. Turn the place inside and out. Maybe there's a hair lying around here somewhere."

Castiel nodded. "You can begin searching the apartment while I speak to Mrs. Cregg."

Dean frowned, a pout forming on his lips. "Why do I get stuck with the boring physical job?"

"Because you are the one who is always suggesting I work on my social skills." Castiel's lips quirked into a small smile and Dean couldn't help but smile back. He didn't really want to talk to Mrs. Cregg anyway. That lady gave him the creeps. Anyone that happy and cheerful all the time had to be evil.

Dean placed his coffee down on the bedside table. "Nature calls," he muttered as he climbed over Cas to get out of the bed. He stepped into the bathroom, yelling out as he closed the door, "Nice hair by the way."

Castiel quickly brought his hand up to his hair, patting it lightly. And although Dean could no longer see the former angel, he knew he was blushing.

When Castiel returned two hours later, Dean was just finishing up his sweep of the apartment. He'd looked behind every piece of furniture, in every drawer, hell he'd even pulled up the floorboard where it squeaked in the bedroom, hoping to find something hidden inside, but came up with nothing. There were no old hairbrushes or gloves, no feminine looking object that could have belonged to the dearly departed Mrs. S. Dean was this close to just setting the whole damn place on fire.

"Where have you been?" Dean snapped at Castiel as he walked through the door.

"Mrs. Cregg likes to talk. A lot. She would frequently relay stories that had nothing to do with the question asked."

Dean rolled his eyes, exasperated. "Why didn't you just cut her off then, tell her to get to the point?"

"Because she seemed lonely, Dean." Castiel tilted his head, his eyes softening. "I brought her comfort by sitting there and listening." Castiel dropped his gaze to the floor. "It felt good."

Dean sighed. Leave it to Cas to make him feel like a jerk. He took a step closer to Castiel. "Look, I'm sorry. I've just been ripping this place apart looking for something and coming up empty-handed." Dean bowed his head, trying to get Castiel to meet his eyes. Like always, he did. "It's nice, that you sat with her."

"Yes, well, I'm afraid it didn't do us much good. She said that everything that belonged to Mrs. Scully had been shipped to her family in New York. Nothing of hers was left in the apartment."

"Great. So she could be attached to something in New York." Dean laughed. "This is great, just fuckin' great." He kicked the sofa and cursed. "So much for an easy case."

Castiel leaned against the dining room table, his head bent, no doubt in deep thought. He got like that when there was a problem that he hadn't solved. Castiel could stand there for hours trying to work through what their next step should be. Dean plopped down on the couch and laid his head back. He stared up at the wallpaper, counting the leaves on every flower. This could take a while.

He was up to fifty-eight leaves when his phone rang. "Yeah," he answered.

The voice on the other end was high pitched and female. "Hi, Dean? This is Tara. Tara Rosenberg." Her voice rose as she said her last name, like she wasn't quite sure she'd gotten it right.

Dean leaned forward at the mention of her name. "Yeah, hi. Uh, what can I do for you?"

"Well, umm… I thought about what you said, and there is something else about the apartment that I remember." Dean held the phone closer to his ear. "There was this painting on the wall that had been there since the first tenant. Apparently the lady who owned the place painted it or something, and they left it up after her death. Anyways, I loved it. It was beautiful and had this deep gorgeous red in it, but my boyfriend hated it. He…" She paused, letting out a breath.

"He what, Tara?"

"You're gonna think he's crazy, but he used to say he felt like the painting was watching him. I told him it is was ridiculous, that there weren't even any people in the painting, but still… it scared him."

Dean pulled out a pen and pad from his jacket, switching the phone to his left hand so that he could write. "Where's the painting now?"

"Well, I assumed it was still in the apartment."

"Apartment?" Dean's eyes scanned the living room. There were no paintings on the walls. "No, there's no painting here."

"Oh. Well, I guess they must have painted over it."

Dean dropped the pen and stood. "Painted over it? What do you mean painted over it?" He glanced quickly at Castiel, saw Castiel's eyes narrowed at him.

"The painting was drawn on the wall. I thought it was neat. You know, different to have a painting worked into the apartment like that."

"Tara, where was the painting exactly?"

"On the wall in the living room, on the left side of the window."

Dean thanked her and hung up. He looked over at the blank expanse of floral wallpaper behind the TV.

"Son of a Bitch," he muttered before moving quickly across the room, where he started pushing furniture hastily out of the way.

"Dean?" Castiel walked over to Dean, his confusion evident on his face.

"It's a painting, Cas, the thing she's attached to. Scully painted a picture on the wall that they covered up." Dean pulled out his switchblade from his jean pocket and cut into the wallpaper. The paper curled into itself and Dean yanked at it, stripping away the wallpaper piece by piece.

As he tore at it, an image became apparent on the wall.

"Dean. Look."

Dean took a step back and looked at the painting. It was of a red house in a green field covered with flowers of every color. The painting was bright, lighter shades of green, yellow, and purple used to bring out the airiness of the landscape. It seemed like a happy picture. Until you looked at the house. The house was a deep brownish-red, rich and thick in its color. It stood out sharply from the calming shades that surrounded it. Dean found the painting unsettling, and by the look on Castiel's face, so did he.

Dean leaned forward and ran his finger along the red house. "Ok, I just had a creepy thought. What if the thing that's linking Mrs. Scully here is blood? Does that red look a little too dark and thick to be paint to you?"

Castiel didn't respond. He left the room and returned quickly with gasoline, salt, and matches. He kneeled down to open the gasoline container and poured salt in, sealing the cap and shaking the container to mix it.

He stood but immediately froze when he saw Dean, eyes narrowed and hands clenched into fists at his side. Castiel breathed out, his breath a white smoke in front of his face. He spun around and saw what had Dean so transfixed. Mrs. Scully had returned.

Dean kept his eyes on Mrs. Scully, silently cursing himself for leaving the duffle bag with their weapons inside of the bedroom. He glanced at Castiel and spoke in a hushed voice, "You torch the painting and I'll distract Picasso." Dean quickly stepped in front of Castiel and yelled, "Hey Bitch, no wonder someone strangled your ass. Your painting's shit." That earned him a swift throw against the wall.

Dean slid down the wall and landed hard on his back against the floor. A sharp pain shot up his side. He strained to lift himself, but before he could push up onto his elbows Mrs. Scully was on top of him, straddling his waist. Not so hot of a position when it was an old, dead chick trying to kill you. She growled down at him, baring her brown-stained teeth, and wrapped her hands around his neck.

Castiel made quick use of the distraction Dean created and swiftly began pouring the gasoline on the painting.

Dean's hands instinctively went to wrap around Mrs. Scully's wrists, trying unsuccessfully to loosen her grasp. "Cas." He croaked out.

Castiel chucked the empty gas container to the floor and pulled from his pocket the lighter Dean had given on the first hunt the three of them had been on together. He struck it and brought the flame to the wall.

Mrs. Scully turned her head toward the burning flames and screamed. She made no move to stand, no move to lunge towards Castiel, but simply threw her arms back and burst into flames, disappearing from the room.

Dean groaned and brought his hands to his neck, breathing heavily. He lifted his head and looked at Castiel from where he lay on the ground. He pointed at Castiel and breathed out, "Next time, you're bait."

"So how was the hunt?"

Dean jumped at the sound of Sam's voice, the key to Bobby's house falling on the floor as he stepped through the doorway. "Dude, what've you been standing by the door?"

"Maybe." Sam looked at Castiel, who walked in behind Dean, duffle bag in hand. "So how was the hunt?" Sam asked again, this time directing the question at Castiel.

Castiel looked up at Sam. "It was fine." He glanced over at Dean, brought his hand up to Dean's neck, and massaged the skin briefly before pulling away. "I'm going to put the bags away. Start researching for another hunt."

He walked past Sam and headed up the stairs, Sam's eyes following him the whole way up. Sam turned back to Dean, a stupid, self-satisfied grin on his face.

"I knew it."

"What?" Dean barked.

Sam tried to suppress his smile and keep a straight face, but his lips kept twitching. "Nothing. Just…the hunt was fine?"

"Yeah, Sam. It was fine."


"Great." Dean said, his irritation obvious as he turned around to lock the door. He turned back around to pick up the key he'd dropped but paused when he saw Sam was still standing in the hallway staring at him, a serious expression replacing his previous smile.

Dean cocked his head to the side. "Did I miss something? What's going on Sam?"

Sam stroked his chin. "I was just wondering, if you and Cas got married, would that make God your father-in-law?"

Sam didn't even see the punch coming.