Disclaimer: All television shows, movies, books, and other copyrighted material referred to in this work, and the characters, settings, and events thereof, are the properties of their respective owners. As this work is an interpretation of the original material and not for-profit, it constitutes fair use. Reference to real persons, places, or events are made in a fictional context, and are not intended to be libelous, defamatory, or in any way factual.

Empyrean Glow

Part of the deal Sam and Dean made when they started hunting again was that they'd spend time hunting alone or with other people. "Erotically codependent", the asshole Zachariah called it, was what saved the world from going to the zombies, but it's what started the Apocalypse in the first place. It's why Sam explicitly told Dean to never come after him and to go straight to Lisa.

This new arrangement's easier to stick to than Dean first thought. Maybe it had something to do with the year he spent with Lisa and Ben, but he knows for a fact that it had everything to do with the knowledge that Sam is here. It's no longer about Sam riding shotgun or staying up to research while Dean dozes off or playing the reliable good cop to Dean's bad or sliding in with a shotgun at the last minute to take out the pissy ghost. It's no longer about Sam having to be here and everything to do with Sam being alive.

Not that he lost anything in living with Lisa and Ben. They're the breath of fresh air he needed for over seventy years, and he comes back to them whenever he can to kick back and withdraw from the hunting world.

It only lasts so long because then Lisa will point out a small blurb in the local paper, or Sam/Bobby/Rufus will call about strange deaths in Bumfuck a hundred miles from Cicero, or the Friendly Neighborhood Archangel will blow in, knocking him off his chair and sending up in a whirlwind of loose papers. Lisa will just raise an eyebrow and continue working on the latest Sudoku puzzle.

"Man, and I was just getting to the good part," he grumbles, picking himself up and turning off the TV. "What is it this time?"

He doesn't look at Castiel. He hasn't been able to for a long time, not without his chest trying to suffocate him or his heart trying to break his ribs or his skin crawling and flushing with heat whenever the archangel invades his personal space. It's embarrassing and nerve-wracking and maybe a bit terrifying so he tries not to think about it. Tries not to pay attention to the wall of heat that trails him to his room where a duffel bag waits.

"Call before you start back," Lisa says as Castiel follows him out the door.

"The trickster Sam and Bobby are looking into is calling itself Loki," Castiel announces while Dean throws his bag in the back of the Impala. He bangs his head on the roof as he yanks himself out and stares at Castiel over the top of the car for the first time.

Castiel looks tired and maybe a bit aggravated. He's also staring straight at Dean, which means his heart is palpitating and he's gripping the car door a little too tightly.

"You mean he's alive?" Dean asks. They both know who he's talking about.

Castiel shakes his head. "I can take you to Bobby's right now. They're heading back as we speak-"

"We're driving," Dean says firmly, because he's sworn off Angel Airlines for good, even if he has his own private jet on standby. "C'mon, get in the car."

He drops his gaze and gets in behind the wheel, doesn't bother raising an eyebrow when Castiel is already there, hands in his lap while he stares straight ahead. Every car ride starts like this. Just give him an hour or two to relax, loosen up a bit, start being a little more human.

Dean likes it when Castiel rides shotgun, but he's never going to admit that. He's also never admitting to liking that Castiel doesn't mind his music, except Rock of Ages and even Dean has to agree. Castiel also has a thing for rolling the window all the way down and letting his arm hang on, meaning the breeze gets to whip its way through the car and around them, but Dean doesn't mind that either, even if the roar drowns out his phone and he ends up with six missed phone calls, three texts, and a bitchy voicemail from Sam.

He wondered once if this was what flying's like for angels, but crushed the thought and asked if Castiel drank beer in Heaven.


He knows exactly when it happened, like some teenage girl scribbling, "Josh Harding looked at me!" in her froofy pink journal with a glittery pen. Luckily his journal is in his head and the only one who's capable of finding and reading it had agreed years ago to stop snooping around. Thank god because Dean would probably die if Castiel ever found out.

They were in Idaho, potato country, checking out rumors of a revenant. Instead they kicked up a whole nest of non vegetarian vampires and that would have been the end of Sam and Dean Winchester if Castiel hadn't stormed the abandoned barn, beheaded the two vampires closest to them with one swing of his silver sword, and whisked them back to their motel room.

"Nice save," Dean said while patching Sam up, ignoring the questions bubbling in his head – How'd you know? How'd you find us? Why are you really here? Don't you have more important things to do than watch out for two humans?

"It's the least I can do," Castiel rumbled as he hovered by the door. When he didn't leave Dean started looking at him, at the flecks of red on his coat sleeve and the way his long fingers twitched. Then he jabbed Sam with the needle and got an earful for it; the next time he looked, stitches done and Sam bitching about the vampires, Castiel was gone. Dean shoved aside the disappointment and told Sam to man up, they need to get some dead man's blood.

Dean felt a whole lot better when he spotted Castiel waiting for them near the barn. Apparently he had a lot of time on his hands and was using it to help them out, which pleased Dean more than it should.

"They bring their victims here," the archangel told them quietly. "They should arrive in approximately ten minutes."

He was a ghostly figure in the moonlight, deep shadows cutting edges around his blunt jaw and dragging him into the pitch-black of the overgrown farmland. Dean wanted to reach out and touch his face, make sure he's actually there, and then the bucket of thick blood swayed in his grip, dragging him back down to reality and reminding him to fucking breathe and what the fuck are you thinking.

Sam frowned when he choked on dusty air.

It didn't really hit him until the last head rolled in the blood-soaked dirt and Dean, serrated knife gripped tightly in his hand, took a deep breath and looked up. Sam was giving him a shit-eating grin as he helped a would-be victim to his feet; the man's cousin is already standing and gagging at the mess. And Castiel-

It was like the whole world shifted in his head, pulling and pushing until everything was in alignment with the archangel standing over the body of the nest leader, sword dripping, clothes soaked, flecks of blood trickling down his face.

His terrible and beautiful face.

And all Dean could think was, I know you, which was weirdest fucking thing to come to mind.

Then Castiel flicked vampire blood off the blade of his sword and he was as clean and pressed as a rumpled holy tax accountant can get. He looked over his shoulder at Sam and the two survivors, and then said, "I am needed in Heaven."

Dean couldn't see his eyes and for once he was glad; just the weight of it was worse than ever, and he could barely make himself nod before Castiel disappeared in a whirlwind of dust and rotten hay.

One of the survivors gasped and the sound snapped the silence.

"Right," Dean said immediately afterward, and suddenly he had to keep talking or moving. "We need to burn these bodies. Can you help us?"

"Y-yeah," one of them said.

The man, Timothy Lu, later asked while Sam squirted lighter fluid on the bodies piled up several yards from the barn, "What is he?"

"Who?"

"Your friend, the one who disappeared."

Dean shifted from foot to foot. He didn't feel like sharing. Never did. "Someone I met years ago."

"But what is he?"

Sam tossed a handful of lit matches onto the pyre and stepped back while the fire roared and shot upwards, golden arms reaching for the stars. Dean felt the rush of the hunt thrum with the heat and the licking flames. Dried blood cracked as he grinned.

"Something powerful."


Sam tells him they'll be a day late. The town he and Bobby stopped at for lunch has a haunted house, or so the folks there say. Also, they can't get a solid lead on the trickster that's calling itself Loki and sorry for dragging him out of the house.

"Maybe Crowley knows something-"

"No, I am not calling him."

"Then ask Cas. He's with you, right?"

"Yeah."

"Ask him. Gotta go."

"Don't let the haunted house kick your bony ass."

"Shut up, you jerk."

"Bitch." Dean ends the call. "What do you think?"

It takes a minute before he hears anything. Castiel shifts, slide of fabric on fabric, slow like he's just remembering that he should act more human, more fidgety. It ends up setting Dean's nerves on fire and crushing his chest. He grips the wheel tightly, swallowing hard, and spares a sideways glance; Castiel's wrapped himself in his coat like he's cold and he's staring out the window, a thoughtful expression on his face. The window is rolled up except for a two-inch gap and the wind smells of tar and prairie grass.

"I don't know. Loki is no ordinary trickster god, and Gabriel was one of the original archangels. Or the trickster is very aware of who they are and is leading you on."

"That's just great. Bobby's going to blow his top."

"They're dealing with a trickster."

Dean sighs and steps on the gas.


"I have a proposition for you."

To his credit Crowley didn't twitch at the three shotguns pointed at his head.

"Thought you were done with us," Dean said.

"Turns out I'm a softie for the people that deliver," the demon replied as he edged away from them. He sidestepped the giant rug like he knew about the devil's trap painted on the other side, a smirk on his face because he knew the entire layout of the house, all the salt and iron and sigils encasing it in layers upon layers of protection, and all the little gaps in the defenses to manipulate.

"The hell does that mean?" Bobby demanded.

"Means I enjoy doing business with you. So, I have a proposition."

Killing him was not an option, since both the Colt and Ruby's knife were out of reach. They couldn't really kill him anyway, since Crowley, in his aggravating way, helped them send Lucifer back to Hell. That left them with kicking him out or letting him make his pitch.

"Better not involve kissing," Sam said under his breath. Crowley frowned at him.

"You're the last person I want to send to Hell, so no thank you. It's quite simple, really. I have eyes and ears everywhere. If you need hard-to-find intel, I can get it."

"Oh really?" Dean asked.

"Don't believe me? I found you Famine and Death, didn't I?"

Point. A very painful point. "What makes you think we want it?"

"If you think Heaven's a mess, you should see what the Apocalypse did around here. There's a power vacuum with Lucifer, Azazel, and Lilith gone. I'm one of the top dogs, but King of the Crossroads only gets you so far. So here's the deal – I tell you if something's up and you kill a few demons for me."

"That's it?" Bobby asked.

"Don't you trust me? I told you I'd give you your soul back."

"After I summoned you into a devil's trap, yeah."

Crowley rolled his eyes and made an empty gesture with his hand. "Details. I was preoccupied at the time reestablishing myself in the demonic pecking order. Look, I'm just going to lay it out on the table and show myself out. Your choice. I'll see you around."

He looked directly at Bobby as he said this and then he strolled out the house through the back door. Sam leaned over and peered through the window. "He's gone."

Dean lowered his shotgun. "What the hell was that?"

"You tell me," Bobby said, removing shotgun shells from his firearm and setting them both on his desk. "Guess that's what he meant when he said he owed us something."

"When did he say that?" Sam asked.

Bobby shrugged and sat down; he pulled out a bottle of Scotch and three shot glasses and started pouring like it's normal to get drunk at ten in the morning. "The last time he stopped by."

"When was that?"

"Couple of weeks ago. If I didn't know any better I'd say he's grown fond of us." With a snort Bobby picks up a shot glass and downs the liquor in one go. "Said he figured he owed us something for taking Lucifer out of the picture."

Dean frowned at the amber in his shot glass. "Crowley said that?"

"Yep."

"A demon."

"Yep."

"King of the Crossroads."

"You want me to spell it out for you?" Bobby snapped. "Nearly blew his head off, too."

They didn't really believe it until two and a half weeks later, when Crowley appeared in the backseat and calmly informed them that not only were they looking for succubi and not sirens but that there's also a powerful demon in town and could they please gank it for him?

"Is this going to be a regular thing?" Dean demanded after they took out the five succubi and the milky-eyed demon.

"Oh I hope not," Crowley said and promptly disappeared.


"Guess I have the whole house to myself," Dean says as he slams the trunk and hefts his duffel bag. He's thinking about his collection of firearms gathering dust in his room – Lisa, not surprisingly, banned all guns from the house before permitting his reliable Colt to stay – and the quiet joy of disassembling and cleaning each one with loving care. It was one of the first things he did after Sam appeared at Lisa's doorstep, skittish and fumbling and ready to drag Dean back out into the world.

Castiel nods. His hand rests on the hood of the Impala, slender fingers splayed over the polished black surface, and Dean wonders if they're as nimble as he imagines, as quick and sure and strong and full of warmth. With a shudder he turns and heads for the door. He really needs to stop thinking about Castiel's hands.

Because post-Apocalypse Sam is apparently a neat freak the house isn't drowning in books and off-kilter paraphernalia. According to Bobby Sam had been cataloguing and organizing his possessions since he claimed one of the guest rooms as his own. Bobby had grudgingly allowed it, muttering about how his system never failed him before while admitting he'd been looking for one of the books for years, but drew the line at the rabbit food in his fridge.

Dean hovers at the doorway, freezes up when he feels a wall of heat at his back. Too close, too close, too close.

"Don't you, uh, have somewhere else to be?" he chokes out.

"Where?"

Rolling his eyes Dean steps inside, feeling himself relax when the heat fades. At the same time he expects it to follow him and glances over his shoulder when it doesn't. Castiel stares up at the ceiling, head tilted to the side. Dean looks up but sees nothing out of the ordinary.

"Want a beer?" Dean tosses the duffel bag onto the couch. He already knows the answer.

Castiel is sitting on the couch next to his bag when he returns with two cold bottles, feet planted on the floor and elbows on his knees. His head is bowed, eyes narrowed like he's concentrating on something, but they widen and flick upwards when Dean holds out his beer.

"I am not needed in Heaven at the moment," Castiel says slowly as he rolls the bottle in his hands. "Nor do I wish to return anytime soon."

He rarely talks about the disorganization in Heaven and Dean never asks. Dean wonders if he should start now. Casually, like he actually cares about Castiel's job, he asks, "Why's that? Policing Heaven can't be too hard."

A decidedly un-angelic snort distracts him from his beer and Dean turns around to see Castiel smiling ruefully at the floor. "What's so funny?"

The smile turns to Dean. It mirrors the shit-eating one glued to a future Castiel but it's not careless; it's…amused, curious, uncharacteristically fond, and Dean starts squirming in place. He rubs the pad of his thumb along the side of the bottle, slick with condensation, and then gulps down half the beer. When he checks Castiel is drinking, too, but he's still watching Dean.

"What?" Dean asks, trying to channel annoyance into his voice.

Castiel swirls the contents of the bottle in his hand, long fingers holding the glass delicately like it'll shatter it if he applies even the slightest pressure. The way he's sitting on the couch pulls up his coat and shirt sleeves, exposing slender wrists and Dean suddenly wants to hold them, wants to feel for a hint of pulse under the pale skin.

He won't lie; he does this to Sam sometimes, grabbing his wrist to feel the steady beat while Sam gives him a weird look.

"We holding hands now?" Sam asked the first time he did this and Dean just shook his head, unable to say anything around the lump in his throat.

Much later Sam just told him, "I'm not going anywhere."

"I know."

"You can't hold onto me forever."

"I know."

"I mean, you can let go now."

Dean can remember rather vividly the night Castiel returned to his life. A pack of werewolves in Montana and they were in their log cabin-themed motel room packing silver bullets and checking their knives when the lights started flickering. At a glance Dean pulled out Ruby's knife and Sam a quart of holy water and a handgun. Then there was no flickering, no light bulbs exploding, no sparks spraying as a man in a trench coat suddenly appeared in the middle of the room.

Dean was too shell-shocked to say, "You bastard, you didn't even say goodbye," and just stood there while Sam strode over to Heaven's sheriff with a grin on his face, hand reaching out to grasp Castiel's in a handshake and a hug. The newest archangel obliged willingly but his eyes were on Dean.

There was no hugging or handshakes. Castiel just walked up to him, pushing into his personal space like he used to, and waited. For what, Dean didn't know, so he just tossed the knife onto the bed and said, "We're hunting werewolves."

And after shooting every one of them with silver bullets? The three of them watched the bodies burn in a furious, writhing orange glow and that's when Castiel said, "Angels have come to earth."

"Like you?"

"No. They wish to harm you."

"Why?" Sam asked.

Castiel looked at Sam briefly and then the brunt of his gaze settled on the side of Dean's face. "Because of me."

And right there and then Dean wanted to grab his hand and slide his fingers up until they settled on his wrist, found a pulse even though angels probably don't have one. He just needed to know that Castiel was really here, the way Sam was here. He couldn't do it, though; who knew how long before Castiel went back to Heaven and forgot about them again? Instead he elbowed the archangel, meeting a solid wall that will never fall, and said, "Nothing we can't handle."

The next morning he called Bobby for the first time in over a year and was berated both for the early hour and for being a "goddamn idjit." When Sam and Dean pulled up at the Singer Salvage Yard Bobby was waiting for them, holy water in one hand and whiskey in the other.

"You're hunting again and you didn't bother to call me?" he asked while they took their requisite shots. He didn't ask how Sam got out of Hell, but neither did Dean.

"I was, uh…" Sam shrugged, ducked his head. "I was looking for myself."

There was nothing more to say about that, not after just about everything, so Bobby turned on Dean. "And you. What the hell happened to you?"

What was he supposed to say? How would he explain the collapse of his apple pie life, the return of dreams and nightmares that devoured it until there was nothing left but crumbs and a pie tin? He only hung on until Lisa understood, until Sam was in his life again.

Dean downed the rest of the whiskey, waited until the burn faded, and tilted his head in Sam's direction. "Dragged me out the front door."

Two brothers on the road, searching for themselves along the never-ending highway. An almost perfect story of redemption and self-discovery except for the monsters, demons, and renegade angels they met along the way.

And then there's the archangel sitting in Bobby's living room, the subject and object of Dean's dreams in the months since the Idaho vampires. If he didn't know any better he'd say it's a recent obsession, or the yearlong absence finally catching up with Dean's head and turning it into something more familiar to him. But it's a lie. It's always been a lie.

He just doesn't know why he's realizing this now.

Twisting the bottle in his hand he glances at the kitchen and clears his throat. "Uh, need another beer?"

Castiel looks at him instead of the glass swinging loosely from his fingers. "You're not finished."

"Talking about you," Dean says, unable to stop smiling even though he's feeling hot and cold all over and is just about ready to crawl out of his skin. "Or we can go out, find a bar and shoot some pool."

Castiel tilts his head as he contemplates the suggestion. "I'd rather stay here but I'll go wherever you go."

Shit, that's not what he expected Castiel to say. He wrings the neck of the glass bottle, licking his lip with a dry tongue, and abruptly turns and stalks towards the kitchen. "Yeah, more beer."

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Castiel make an aborted move to stand and suddenly he wants to run. His hand shakes as he sets his beer on the counter and then he nearly knocks it over as he reaches for the fridge handle. He ends up leaning against the fridge, staring at its contents without making a move for one of the three bottles left.

What is wrong with him? He's had it bad before - Cassie, his mind whispers with fond nostalgia and then laughs at the memory of his fumbling attempts to introduce himself to her one night at a college bar a lifetime ago – but he was never fucking terrifiedof what he's feeling. Old habits keep him playing cool, acting like it's just another day in the life of Dean Winchester, but inside he keeps freezing up, keeps floundering over this-this-whatever the hell this is.

His shoulders tense at creaking floorboards but the footsteps are fading. Maybe Castiel's going to poke around Bobby's library for a bit while waiting for the beer that's in the fridge and not in Dean's hand. And since the archangel doesn't seem keen on going back to Heaven for some reason Dean's stuck with him for at least a day.

Then he realizes that Sam and Bobby aren't here; they're miles away, checking out a haunted house. It'll be just Dean and Castiel under the same roof, and Castiel will only go wherever he goes unless Heaven suddenly needs some policing. The thought is a little more than Dean can handle and he nearly misses the bottle he's reaching for.

"Poor Dean Winchester, getting overemotional because he can't, or won't, man up."

Dean knocks the bottle over and bangs the back of his head on the fridge as he extracts himself and whirls around.

"Now what do you want?" he growls. His heart is pounding way too fast and his senses flood with heat and embarrassment and the overwhelming need to either run or stab something.

Crowley just raises an eyebrow at him from his seat behind Bobby's desk, polished wingtips propped up on top of piles of newspapers and old books. Bobby would kill him if he was here and Dean considers doing the favor for him.

"Funny you should ask, as that's the question I should be asking you," he says. "King of the Crossroads and all. But I'll ask anyway. What do you want?"


Dean didn't know how to tell Sam that trying to keep his promise was going to break him, but Lisa did it for him, ordering him to go pack some clothes and "work things out before you come back home, or else I'm taking my guest room back."

"It…didn't work?" he asked tentatively as he leaned against his car - his car, because apparently Sam was on the road for a long time.

Dean shrugged, hefted the duffel bag on his shoulder as he popped the Impala's trunk open. "Not the way you thought would happen."

"What do you mean?"

Dean turned to him. "Sam, that apple pie life? It's just a pipe dream. I tried, but turning my back on you, on what we did, it's impossible. Trying to live a normal life like we always wanted wasn't what I thought it would be."

"I did it," Sam said. "I did it for four years-"

"Bet you could because you knew we were out there, me and Dad and the family business," Dean said, crossing his arms as he leaned against the trunk. The Impala's undercarriage dipped to take on his weight. "Because all we had to worry about was the yellow-eyed demon. But me? You were down there, man. You were gone, stuck in Hell. And I-I had the weight of the world on my shoulders for the longest time. The Righteous Man, Michael's sword, kill Lucifer and win the Apocalypse. Everything that happened after I went looking for you, I couldn't forget that. I tried," and shit, his eyes were hot and maybe wet and his voice was shaking, "so fucking hard and I couldn't forget any of it."

"You can't just give up your old life like that. You grew up doing this; you can't just…leave it and start over."

Sam looked away, fists clenched tight. "I didn't…I didn't think about that."

"It's fine," Dean admitted, gave Sam a warning glare when he whipped his head around with protest on his lips. "I wasn't going to live that life with her and Ben, but I needed a break. A really long break."

Sam gave him an uneasy smile, like he's unsure that he didn't completely fuck things up for his brother. "Did you enjoy your vacation?"

"Yeah," and then Dean pushed himself off the Impala. He patted the smooth surface and smiled, imagining the warmth from the sun and the thin layer of dust from the long road. "But I'm itching to get out and kill something. Come on, park your ugly ass car here and come ride with me."

"My car is not ugly," Sam mutters but he grabs his bags from his car anyway, dumps them in the trunk and slams the top down before walking to the front and sliding into shotgun. "Where to?"

Dean turned on the ignition and the engine roared to life. "Anywhere."

He caught Lisa peering through the curtains as they drove past and thought he saw a smile on her face.

It was well past midnight and they were far from Indiana when Sam asked, "Hey, uh, have you talked to Bobby and Cas?"

Dean tightened his grip on the wheel, his heart hammering. He knew Sam would bring it up and didn't know how to answer. He just settled for a single word and hoped Sam didn't push it.

"No."


"What are you talking about?" Dean asks. Eyes dart around the kitchen and settle on the iron cast skillet on the stovetop. There are also a few knives but they're not Ruby's.

"You heard me," Crowley says. "I'm asking you what you want."

He hasn't moved from Bobby's desk but Dean doesn't trust him; he looks at the skillet and the kitchen knives, wishing he'd dropped off his duffel bag here, not in the living room.

"It's a simple question," Crowley says.

For some reason he thinks Dean is going to tell him. Crossing his arms, leaning against the counter, absolutely not thinking about a night years ago when an angel of the Lord demanded respect from him, Dean says, "And what makes you think I'm going to tell you?"

"I feel like sharing and caring tonight, how about you?"

Dean snorts at that. They still have a few hours before sunset, and why is that the first thing to come to mind? He should be wondering why Crowley wants to know and what he plans to do with the knowledge. As a general rule of thumb demons are not to be trusted but crossroad demons? They're always about making deals for souls; they'll exploit any weakness if it means sending someone to Hell in ten years or less.

He decides to indulge the demon for a bit, rather than to start looking for ways to gank him right then and there.

"Yeah, sorry, never was into that sort of thing," Dean says and decides to open the fridge again, grab a bottle of beer for himself. He can't deal with this without more alcohol.

As he busies himself with popping off the cap and downing a third of the bottle in three swallows he wonders where Castiel is and why he hasn't shown up to address Crowley's presence. Maybe the archangel finally left. He glances toward the living room, because on his best day the archangel is a sneaky bastard, but Castiel is nowhere in sight.

"Nope, he's still here," Crowley says nonchalantly. "He won't do anything unless I touch a hair on your pretty head."

There's something funny about the way he says it that makes Dean shift uncomfortably. After a second he decides on how it bothers him and says, "He's not my attack dog."

"Just a superpowered guardian angel, yes, I know, you think I'm comfortable sharing space with him?"

"Then what the fuck are you doing here? Got a demon you want us to gank? News about a trickster that's calling itself Loki?"

Crowley snorts like these questions are all beneath him. "I'm here because I want to. The demons are quiet because two hunters named Sam and Dean are knocking them off the map. And the only trickster to call himself Loki was killed by Lucifer."

Dean scowls. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

"Mmm, no, not at the minute," Crowley says, arms crossed behind his head as he leans back in the chair. "I'm taking the day off, letting someone else handle the bloody business. Perks of being the demon in charge – you get to delegate."

Things still aren't adding up, so he decides to make a one-eighty and go back to the beginning. "You want to know what I want. Why?"

Crowley leans over and Dean hears a drawer slide out. A bottle of Scotch and a shot glass appears on the desk. Bobby is going to be pissed. Of course Crowley doesn't care; he pours liberally, until the amber liquor rounds the top, and then takes a sip. "A good businessman protects his assets."

"I'm not an asset," is the instant retort. Dean considers taking back that whiskey bottle and drinking straight from it because beer is not enough for whatever the fuck this conversation is.

Another shot glass appears on the desk. Crowley picks up the liquor bottle and gestures with it. "Whiskey?"

"No thanks."

"Suit yourself." Crowley stares at the shot glass in his hand with a thoughtful frown, like he's not sure what he's drinking exactly. Then he looks up at Dean and there's a gleam in his eyes that puts him on edge. A voice in the back of his head wonders in passing if Crowley is red-eyed like other crossroads demons, or if he's more like Azazel and Lilith.

"So," he says slowly, sliding his feet off Bobby's desk and knocking several pages of notes onto the floor. "How about it, Winchester?"

Dean's pretty sure Crowley forgot to mention something, like he left out some significant detail in his thought process. "How about what?"

"This thing that you want-"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says. "What makes you think I want something? Why do you even care?"

"Well I'm not going to repeat myself like a bloody parrot." He holds out the Scotch bottle, gestures with it like it'll somehow draw Dean over.

Inwardly Dean sighs and rolls his eyes. "Yeah, fine, if it'll shut you up."

The floor creaks loudly under his feet, a disconcerting sound that almost has him backing away from Bobby's study. "Better not be poisoned," he mutters as he eyes the shot Crowley pours for him.

"You and your moose are my best line of defense. I'm not interested in compromising your existence. Besides," and Crowley tips his head to his right, "I am not even remotely interested in holy fire lighting my arse."

Dean snorts at the mental image and tips the contents of the glass into his mouth. It scorches at first, ravaging his throat as it goes down, and then subsides into a more pleasant burn. It does a more thorough job than the two bottles of beer and Dean almost relaxes.

"You're a strange man, Winchester," Crowley says, and Dean shoots him a look. "What? Since when did that become offensive?"

"I don't know what you're getting at."

"That's because I haven't gotten there yet." Crowley looks much too comfortable in Bobby's chair and Dean starts wondering just how often the demon's been visiting him. "You don't like talking about these things. I understand; it's awkward and embarrassing and full of unwanted surprises."

"Then how about we drop this conversation and pretend it never happened?"

"Sorry, too bored and you make an infinitely more interesting topic of discussion than me."

Dean pours himself another shot. "Yeah, I bet. Crossroads demons have no stories to tell."

"Well that's because it's not about me." Crowley stands up, nudging the chair aside. "So."

Dean takes a small step back, a few inches that hopefully goes unnoticed. He plays it cool, keeping his eyes on the shot glass in his hand. "So."

"Since we're on the topic of one Dean Winchester-" Christ, Dean is not drunk enough for this. "-what's a man like you wallowing about in his unrequited love? Thought you were more the love 'em and leave 'em type. Always straight to the point, instead of hiding in the kitchen with a bunch of beers and a crossroads demon."

Dean doesn't know what to say. The rim of the shot glass is resting on his bottom lip and he's so close to getting buzzed, so close to numbing his brain so that he doesn't have to deal with Crowley or the archangel at the other end of the house, but he can't bring himself to down the Scotch.

There is no way Dean is that transparent; he's using every trick in his rather thick book. Aside from a few slips – that's when he first started realizing that he's looking at Castiel differently – he's kept his poker face on, superglued it, even. Nobody's picked up on it, not Sam, not Bobby, not Lisa, and definitely not Castiel, who seems to be as oblivious to typical human behavior as the first time. How did Crowley figure it out in just a few minutes?

"Oh please," Crowley says with a roll of his eyes. "You give everyone too little credit. If you all weren't so busy trying to fuck up the Apocalypse-"

"That's none of your business," Dean says, his voice coming out hoarse and angry. "I didn't ask you to analyze my life."

"Nope. I'm just bored." Crowley grins, planting his hands on the desk. "So how about it?"

Again with these questions. Dean is seriously this close to tossing the shot glass over his shoulder, storming out, and driving to Sioux Falls to find a bar with pool tables. And chicks. Preferably with slender hands and long fingers. Steadfast blue eyes, too, and a full mouth that's never met Chapstick-

When his eyes refocus it's on the all-knowing smirk on Crowley's literary agent's meat suit and Dean has a terrible feeling that something is going to happen and he's not going to like it.

"What are you going to do?" Dean asks and then instantly winces at how his voice drops to a whisper, like he's too scared that whatever's going to happen isn't.

"Well there aren't any contracts involved. I should imagine that Hell will not be happy with me if an archangel blows down the doors hauling you back out. Well I'm still on Hell's Most Wanted but that's beside the point. I'm just clarifying so that you don't come kill me later."

"What-"

"And I really wasn't kidding when I said your archangel would kill me if I touched a hair on your head," Crowley says, leaning forward, voice dropping to a conspiratorial tone. "In fact, I don't think he likes it when anyone touches you."

His ears burn at the thought.

"How-what makes you say-"

"Pack of hellhounds? The fraternal twins? Those angels, what were their names…Maion and Ramiel?"

That hunt was a perfect storm of Heaven and Hell. Crowley tipped them off and then joined them because somebody was out to get him. That somebody? A crossroads demon who decided that hellhounds were exactly the sort of hunt that would drawn in Sam and Dean Winchester. Next thing they knew the twins they saved from the pack turned on them with silver swords and unkind words about the Apocalypse, Michael, and an upstart young archangel.

Then said upstart young archangel swept in, all fury and fire, tearing Maion and Ramiel out of their vessels and sending them packing to Heaven. After that the hellhounds were easily dispatched of – especially with Crowley's pet bossing them around – and Crowley personally dealt with the rogue demon while Sam and Dean took the twins home.

That was it, wasn't it? Dean frowns, brain wracking for the foggy memories. This was months ago and he can't keep track of every hunt he'd taken part in.

"I'm not getting it."

"That's because you're denser than rocks."

Dean scowls. "Am not."

He remembers talking to Castiel while Sam explained to the twins – weren't their names Moira and Ryan? – why they shouldn't agree to whatever the mysterious voices in their heads asked of them. Dean was asking about why Maion and Ramiel made it their personal mission to kill Sam and Dean, and if this was just the beginning of some heavenly civil war, and all the archangel would say was, "I'm sorry."

"Hey, chin up," Dean said, and this was before the vampire hunt in Idaho so he put his hand on Castiel's shoulder, squeezed lightly. "Just get your feathered ass here faster next time. Don't have enough oil for another holy Molotov cocktail, you know."

"Then I'll find more for the times I can't reach you."

After that is a fog of impressions, of other hunts sandwiched in between that and the supposed revenant in potato country. There's nothing he recalls to back up the bullshit Crowley's talking about.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he declares and downs the shot in his hand.

"Well I know what I saw and what I saw was one pissed off angel. You really don't remember, do you?"

Why isn't Dean walking away from this? This conversation is just absurd and more than a bit uncomfortable, especially for someone who doesn't talk about his feelings. Ever. And especially with a fucking crossroads demon.

"I almost expected you to walk away when I first started in on you," Crowley says because apparently angels aren't the only ones who can read his mind. "You're hanging onto something, even if it's coming from my mouth. I wonder what that is."

"You give yourself too much credit," Dean says. His senses are numbing but it's not enough. He glances at the Scotch, notices that there's maybe a fourth left, and thinks, I'll just buy him a new one.

And then he frowns. "She kissed me."

And not just Moira. Apparently the twins enjoy getting close and personal with their rescuers, and Dean had fantasized about a night with them more than once as he and Sam headed back to Bobby's and got derailed by a poltergeist lurking in a church along the way.

He complained about Castiel, too; something about him needing to learn to say goodbye and Sam replying, "But he always comes back."

Not for a month, which pissed Dean off more than it should.

As he did with Sam he does with Crowley, glowering at the cheeky look on his face, like he knows something Dean doesn't. And suddenly the demon is leaning over the desk, breathing Scotch and sour into his face. Dean flinches back but it's too late; fingers curl around his chin and yank him forward.

"Oh good, you do remember," Crowley breathes out, grinning while his eyes flick black with white pinpricks, and kisses him.


Castiel didn't show his face during the year Dean spent with Lisa and Ben. At the time Dean was grateful – there was no room for angels in his apple pie life. He wasn't even talking to Bobby, because there was no associating with hunters in the apple pie life. There were three yawning gaps in his mind and his life, but for the first time ever he had a 9-to-5 job and a family to go home to, and it was amazing.

Until it wasn't, and his old life, the one fraught with danger and monsters and the machinations of Heaven and Hell, the one he stubbornly kept to the outskirts of his memories, started rushing back in. Dean was good at lying, at keeping the mask on, at smiling and nodding and living like everything's perfect and normal, but inside a part of him was starting to scream.

One night he was clawing himself out of the same hole Sam and Adam fell into and he felt a light touch on the side of his face, heard a soft voice murmur, "This isn't working."

"Mom? Is Dean okay?"

"He's fine. Go back to bed; you have school tomorrow."

He cracked an eye open and it was dark except where the streetlight was filtering through the blinds into the guest room. Dean's room. There was a presence sitting near his chest, Lisa's silhouette as she leaned over to press her forehead to his brow and said, "Maybe this isn't for you."

I promised Sam.

"You can't just give up your old life like that," she continued, stroking his back like he's a child in need of comfort. And maybe he did need it; he's trembling under the sheets, heart beating too fast, skin clammy with sweat. "You grew up doing this; you can't just…leave it and start over." A sigh. "I've been waiting for this."

"Yeah?" It came out like a hiss between his cracked lips, and he sounded so broken.

"Yeah." Slowly she lowered her head onto his shoulder, the arm on his back curling to hold her close. "Is it still too soon?"

He wished Sam didn't say yes because all he saw was Sam throwing him on the Impala, breaking her. Sam destroying Castiel, breaking Bobby's neck, beating Dean into a bloody pulp, opening a gateway to Hell and throwing himself and Adam in it.

Stull Cemetery, right outside Lawrence, the graveyard where Dean lost everything.

And when he thought about crawling back to the Impala and dragging out his gun Castiel came back. And Dean asked if he was God.

"Remember when I said something terrible was going to happen?" he whispered. "And that I promised you that you and Ben will be safe when it's over?"

"Well, we're alive," Lisa said. "Did you do it?"

"I rebelled for this? So that you could surrender to them? I gave everything for you, and this is what you give to me?"

"When push shoves, you'll make the right call."

"I didn't. Sam did."


Dean doesn't really feel the mouth latched onto his, hard and rough and soaked in Scotch and something cold and wrong. He doesn't really feel the way the edge of the desk is digging painfully into his hip joint as he's yanked forward. His fingers slip and slide over notebooks and loose sheets of paper, seeking purchase so he can yank himself back, but it's not what worries him, not when what he does feel is a living wall of heat at his back.

"What do you think you're doing?" Castiel asks and his voice is a low rumble that sparks something in him, something hot and heavy and-

Crowley lets go with an obnoxious pop and Dean gags, gasps for air. The demon's eyes flick back to normal and he grins widely as he shoves Dean backwards. "Laying one on your precious hunter."

Dean whirls around and he's almost nose to nose with the archangel. A furious archangel, if the grim line of his mouth and the storm in his eyes are anything to go by. Dean steps back and his hip bumps back into the desk, reminding him that he's sandwiched between a cocky crossroads demon and an angry archangel of the Lord.

"What?" Crowley says. "You clearly weren't going to do anything with him. Thought I'd try him on for size-"

"You'll do no such thing," Castiel growls, stepping forward and crowding Dean against the desk. His attention is on Crowley, though, eyes narrowed and hawk-like. He's giving off so much heat that Dean almost shrugs off his jacket. "What did you do?"

"Nothing. There are no contracts. He's not that stupid. Just call it an incentive, free of charge. Do you mind? If I want to die it's not because somebody's glaring me to death."

There's a twitch in the corner of Castiel's mouth, noticeably only because Dean is just inches away from his face. He considers wiggling his way out between the archangel and the desk before the awkwardness of the entire utterly ridiculous situation sinks in, plus the sudden proximity is doing nothing for his not-so-sudden erection. Dean wants out of the study, out of the house, and the hell away from Castiel before it either becomes too obvious or he suffocates from the heat and tension and the ache of wanting and denying.

Also he's not that teenage girl with the froofy pink journal mooning after some guy at her school, and that saves him some measure of self-respect, just before Castiel suddenly leans forward, jostling him, and shit.

"Well I think my work is done," Crowley suddenly says, and there's a crack in his voice, the suave confidence breaking just a bit.

"Yes, I think it is," Castiel agrees as he plants his hands on the desk on either side of Dean. He leans forward, head coming to rest on Dean's right shoulder; when he talks again his chest vibrates and Dean shivers, barely stops himself from jerking his hips up and forward. "We don't need you now."

Castiel raises his left arm and flicks with his wrist; the wind suddenly stirs and papers fall to the floor. The silence is abrupt, the absence at his back almost as loud as his heart.

We're alone. We're-shit. Shit, shit, shit!

His fingers hurt from where they're curled around the edge of the desk, holding him up and pressing him against Castiel. His position is just awkward, straining his back and his muscles, and god, he doesn't know if he can wait out his erection when Castiel is right here and not moving.

"Cas," he hisses, voice dropping several decibels and dragging over sandpaper. "You mind?"

He does not expect the archangel to tilt his head and press it against the side of his neck. Hot air blows against his pulse and stubble scrapes along skin as something very much like lips press in and sucks.

"Shit!" He bangs his tailbone against the desk and his hands instinctively reach up to latch onto the trench coat lapels, tug Castiel even closer while the archangel presses his hot tongue over the new bruise and slides it up to just behind his ear. He bites his bottom lip as he rides out the pain, and then nearly draws blood when he feels the tip of tongue swirl around that sensitive spot.

"Mine," Castiel whispers and Dean shudders, twists his grip on the coat as he pushes against the desk. More things fall onto the floor but the thud of books, the flutter of loose sheets sliding against each other, the violent shatter of a shot glass are all a muddled dissonance in his ear. All he can hear are his rapid breaths, the puffs of hot air in his ear, a second, growling, "Mine" as Castiel slides his hands under his thighs and lifts him up; Dean reflexively hooks them around the archangel's slim waist, crushing them together as he's set down on top of the desk.

Dean doesn't get a chance to adjust to his new position before Castiel kisses him, mouth wrapping around his and tongue sliding in when Dean gasps and opens up. Where Castiel, who'd never taken the time to do a little cloud seeding, learned how to do this he has no fucking clue and he finds he doesn't care when that tongue caresses his, strokes the roof of his mouth and along the inside of his cheeks, explores every inch of it while hot hands slide up his legs onto his hips and grip tight. All the air is sucked out of his lungs and Dean just can't care; he lets go of the trench coat and wraps his hands around the back of Castiel's neck, fingers sliding into thick dark hair as he catches and sucks on the archangel's tongue.

Castiel slides out of his mouth and Dean gasps for air, for something cold and fresh to flood his lungs while teeth scrape his jaw and mine is whispered into his neck. The hands on his hips slide under his shirt as Dean tugs off his jacket and tosses it aside; he pushes the trench coat off Castiel's shoulders but the archangel makes no move to help him.

"Cas," he says. "Off."

Castiel freezes and for one terrible second Dean thinks he misinterpreted the demand but then he pulls away to yank the coat off. Dean stares; his eyes are a dark, stormy blue, his lips red and swollen, his hair sticking up in every direction, and his neck is unmarked, which is just wrong, and Dean licks his sore lip as he plans what to do next. Castiel stops momentarily as he takes off the suit jacket so Dean slides his tongue over his bottom lip again and grins.

Castiel is so much smaller without the jacket and coat, and Dean gets thrown off completely when the archangel shoves him down onto the desk; his body trembles with boundless, unfathomable strength that's barely under control as he leans over him and attacks his neck, sucking and biting hard enough to leave bruises and impressions of teeth. Castiel's slender frame radiates so much heat, like the archangel's grace is a furnace, and despite the sweat beading on his forehead and dampening his shirt Dean curls upwards towards it while forcing Castiel down on him. The resulting friction on his aching cock leaves him gasping, leaves Castiel shuddering and thrusting against him again.

"We-" He rolls his hips up, brain almost shorting out from the sensation, the rough catch and slide of fabric on fabric and the pressure on his dick. "We could take this…upstairs."

He gets an impossibly calm and pleasant hum as a response. "You know, bed."

Hands slide down his chest towards the end of his shirt as Castiel lifts his head and says, voice as wrecked as his appearance, "Or we can do it here."

Fingers wrap around the ends of Dean's shirt and tug; Dean pushes himself up to help pull it off and shivers when air hits sweat-slick skin. He barely gets manages to toss the damp fabric in the direction of his jacket before he's being shoved back down, and this time he can feel the papers and notebooks underneath him, a discomfort that somehow makes this even more exhilarating. He makes a grab for the cheap blue tie hanging from the archangel's neck and brushing over his stomach, but Castiel gets in the way, wraps long steely fingers around his wrists and hold them down while he starts mouthing down his neck and along his shoulder, all tongue and teeth that has Dean bucking up against him and making rather embarrassing noises in the back of his throat.

Dean hisses when Castiel brushes his lips over the shiny scars on his shoulder; that particular area is so sensitive that he can often feel his shirt sliding over it. Only Anna pressed her palm down on it, gripping it tight as she slid over him, and Dean wonders if Castiel will do the same. Instead Castiel runs the flat of his tongue over the heel of the handprint before lifting his head and lowering it on the anti-possession tattoo over his heart.

"Christ, Cas," he chokes out, struggling against the vice grips on his wrists. He wants to grab that tie, wants to unbutton his shirt, wants to yank him up and shove his tongue into that hot, hot mouth, but Castiel is holding him in place, immobilizing him while he takes his time licking and biting and marking Dean everywhere. He's stuck with his knees pressing into the archangel's side, hips thrusting up with no particular rhythm, desperate for some kind of release.

He gets another noncommittal hum from the archangel, or at least he thinks he does because another choked sound escapes him as teeth find his nipple and bites down. Dean bangs his head against the desk, gasping loudly as Castiel then runs his tongue over it, soothing the sharp pain before moving over to the other one.

"Fucking tease," Dean groans, hands clenching and unclenching. "C'mon, man."

He shudders at the scrape of stubble as Castiel starts pressing a long line of quick kisses from sternum down, clenches his muscles at each touch, each lick, each nip; Dean didn't think he'd be so sensitive but fuck, he is and it's unbearable. The archangel stops at the top of his jeans and then lets one of his wrists go to press the heel of his hand against his cock, cups him through the jeans and Dean bangs his head against the desk again, swearing through clenched teeth. Something else falls off and lands on the floor with a heavy thud.

He almost cries in frustration when Castiel removes his hand, props himself up to glare at the archangel, and all he gets is a sly smile.

With a hand now free Dean grabs that obnoxious tie and tugs hard; it takes a second for Castiel to catch on and let's himself be pulled back up, watches attentively as Dean winds the strip of fabric around his hand. He lets go of Dean's other arm and plants it on the desk, holding himself up as Dean tries to tug him closer.

"You could take my pants off," Dean suggests when they bump noses.

"Later," Castiel breathes into his mouth, pupils blown and eyes filled with hunger as he dips his head and bites Dean's lower lip, sucking it into his mouth and rubbing his tongue over it. He follows this with a slow, steady grind of his hips, and Dean forgets to breathe.

He loosens the knot on the tie, tries to tug it off, and then his fingers slip as the archangel thrusts against him again. Whatever control he pretended to have starts fraying; Dean grips his shirt and yanks it out from his trousers, fumbles with the buttons before growling his frustration and ripping the shirt open. He presses the palms of his hands on hot, hot skin and sinewy muscles, smirks when Castiel shudders at the touch.

Castiel's body is as lean and smooth as Dean remembers from memory; he presses a hand to the center of his chest, almost expecting to see scars there but finding none. Maybe they were there when Castiel woke up in the fisherman's boat, scabbed memories of the sacrifice he still made when he no longer had faith in Dean; maybe they disappeared when Castiel was brought back to life-

"Stop," Castiel says. He leans down, pressing his forehead to Dean's. He seems to come to some sort of conclusion because then he adds, "I'm still here."

Dean slides a thumb down his chest as he tried to remember where he heard it before. Or maybe he never needed to hear it, because Castiel always comes back.

"You always come back," Dean says, and it's possibly the cheesiest thing he's ever said. "No matter what I do, you always come back."

Castiel doesn't say anything. Instead he kisses Dean and this time it's soft, too soft, like he's breathing into Dean instead of plundering his mouth. He presses down on him, the loose tie the only fabric between them, and when he moves against him there's none of the possessive fury that sparked this-this thing they're doing, this thing that they're finally coming to terms with. It's slow and almost sweet and leaves him aching for more. Dean hooks a leg around him, pushing him down while thrusting up, looking for more friction.

"How long?" Dean asks as he mouths the stubble along Castiel's jaw, feeling the prickle on his tongue. He has an idea but he wants to hear it from the archangel.

"Too long," is what he gets, because this is Castiel. And apparently that answer throws a switch in his head because he thrusts again, harder, his erection sliding along Dean's inner thigh and rubbing against his. Breath hitching, heart racing again, Dean grabs his shirt and drags him down for a more thorough kiss, tongues sliding and tangling together. He can taste the searing tang of whiskey in Castiel's mouth but is pretty sure the archangel didn't drink any beforehand; Dean smirks at the thought of leaving behind traces of his flavor before curling his tongue around Castiel's and sucking it into his mouth again.

The archangel curls his fingers around Dean's hips and pulls on him, meets him with another hard thrust that sparks and sets his nerves on fire. He moans into Castiel's mouth and curls his other leg over the archangel's hip, feet knocking together as he tries to match the thrusts and find some sort of rhythm.

More papers and books fall off and the desk slides across the floor in short, sudden increments. Really, there could be better places to do this but there's something rather dangerous about doing it here, where there are windows and the door is not too far away; the thrill of that possibility, the idea of getting caught, the suddenness of this, finally catches up to him and Dean groans, body arching as he pushes his hips up against Castiel's. The need burns and builds, pushing him towards the edge; every slide, every rub, every kiss seems to set afire everything he's thought and felt and dreamed the past year – maybe the past four years – until he feels he's on fire. Almost; he's so close it hurts.

"Fuck!" he swears, frustrated. A mouth latches onto his, tongue thrusting into his mouth while hands grip his hips tight; Castiel rocks against him hard and it's enough, it sends Dean into freefall and his throat makes an incoherent, strangled noise that Castiel swallows as he rides out his orgasm. He's still thrusting, his jeans becoming uncomfortably wet, when the archangel tears his mouth away from Dean's and presses it to his neck, muttering something that might be Enochian as he shudders and comes.

When Dean comes back to himself he's still sprawled out on Bobby's desk, sweaty and sticky and aching in interesting places that may be the fault of the books and stacks of paper underneath him. The whiskey bottle's tipped over, its contents long emptied onto the floor. Castiel lies on top of him, head resting on his left shoulder, mouth pressed against his neck and tongue flicking out at random intervals, stroking his still-rapid pulse. He still has his shirt on, with almost all the buttons missing, and the tie is still around his neck; Dean slowly finishes undoing the knot and slides it off. Then he runs a hand through Castiel's hair, somewhat amused that it's damp, as if archangels sweat and orgasm like humans do.

This is definitely not how Dean expected his day to unravel.

Castiel says something incoherent and his chest rumbles; Dean remembers a kitten Ben once found and how it purred like a little engine as it sat on his chest. He huffs a laugh at the comparison and Castiel cracks an eye open.

"What?"

"Nothing." Dean stares up at the ceiling. "Bobby's going to kill us."

The archangel hums, slides up his body and Dean hisses; he's still too sensitive and raw for more friction, plus he's feeling rather gross at the moment. Then Castiel slides a hand up his chest and caresses the side of his face.

"We still have the rest of the day," he says, layering every word with promises.

"Yeah, on a bed."

Castiel noses his neck, says, "Wherever you want."

Dean thinks about getting up but he's not too keen on pushing the archangel off of him. Plus he doesn't think his knees can stay locked if he stands up, and yeah, he's totally floating on this feeling of bliss, the kind he hasn't felt for years. There are chick flick moments, and then there's this.

"So how long?" he asks again. He thinks about what Crowley said, about Castiel's possessiveness that he hadn't noticed, but also all those times, all those years, about how everything built up from the moment something-someone tore him away from the torture wrack and pulled him out of Perdition.

"I don't know," Castiel says. A sigh. "The Green Room."

"Before the Apocalypse."

Castiel props himself up and looks down at Dean. His hair is sticking up everywhere, his mouth is wrecked, his neck is peppered with hickeys and imprints of teeth, and his eyes are as keen and piercing as the night in Pontiac.

"You asked me to make a choice," Castiel says, "between peace and freedom."

"You chose freedom."

"And humanity. God's greatest Creation. And you. In the end, Dean, I always chose you."

It almost hurt to hear that, to know that despite everything he did the goddamn archangel always chose him above everything else; he killed himself twice for Dean – three, counting the future that never happened – and even when he didn't know if Dean would say yes to Michael he still walked into that empty building in Van Nuys, banishing sigil carved into his chest, blasting the angels and himself out of the way so that Dean and Sam could find Adam.

"You have too much faith in me," Dean says quietly.

"I'm an angel of the Lord," Castiel says, kisses him so gently Dean almost bites his lip to get a stronger reaction. "I need faith in something."

"Isn't that blasphemy?"

Castiel, the bastard, chooses this moment to roll his hips against Dean, and his heart skips a beat while his dick twitches. Then the archangel dips his head and whispers, "Faith and love, Dean. I can love God, I can love His Creation, and I can love you."

Love. It only lasts so long in his life. It's also a little worse than the froofy pink journal metaphor in his head.

"We can clean this up later," Dean says nonchalantly, tilting his head back to gesture at everything that got knocked off the desk. Apparently it's an invitation for Castiel to start kissing his neck again, to lick and suck and bite while he presses body down on Dean's and rocks against him hard.

"Upstairs," he gasps, hands wrapping around Castiel's shoulders.

Not a second later his back hits bed sheets and a mattress, and swears when long fingers unbuckle his belt, undo the button and pull the zipper of his jeans down, and slip inside his boxers.


Dean doesn't like talking about his first months with Lisa and Ben. They had sex twice – both times while Ben was sleeping over at a friend's house – and while it was good it wasn't the answer. After the second and last time, she slid off of him and, elbow propping her up, looked down at him with a sweet, sad smile. She cupped the side of his face, leaned down to press her lips to his, and then whispered, "This isn't the answer you're looking for."

They still shared her bed in those early months because he woke up almost every night shaking and sweating and breathing out, "Sam." It would wake her up, too, and she'd hold him, murmuring, "It's okay, it's okay, it's okay…"

He so desperately wanted to believe the litany of promises, wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him, wished he could just forget.

He dreamed about Sam all the time. Sammy in his arms, their house aglow behind them. Sam shouting as Jessica burst into flames above him. Sam arguing with John all the way to the end. Sam walking into that shack of a diner and vanishing with only a partial trail of sulphur to follow. Sam dying in his arms and the kiss with the crossroads demon to bring him back. Sam being the only word he knew as he was torn apart again and again in the bowels of Hell. Sam in the motel room at Pontiac, Illinois. Sam telling him he's weak and pathetic while under the siren's spell. Sam crying out while locked in the panic room. Sam leaving Dean in the hotel room to start the Apocalypse.

Sam walking away from him in Colorado to stop hunting, at least until Sam in a white suit had Dean reaching back for him. Sam collapsing on the floor after Anna stabbed him, falling back on the motel bed after Walt shot him. Sam still believing that in the end he'll say no to the angels, even when they're running out of options, running out of time. Sam and Death agreeing that it's time for Dean to let him go. Sam throttling him against the Impala until something brought him around and he opened the door to Hell himself. That last look before he threw himself and Adam in and disappeared for good.

And sometimes, sometimes, it wasn't a nightmare but a more peaceful dream – Fourth of July fireworks in the empty field, the open road from A to B, nights spent watching the stars, Happy Hour after a successful hunt, the shared bloody grins and the feeling of a job well done. They were few and far in between, and like the nightmares they seemed to fade.

Just once he dreamed about Castiel. It was sandwiched between his return visit to the honeymoon suite and Sam in the white suit, and it was so strange for him, so bizarre, that Dean smothered it, buried it in the ruins of his former life.

It was everything and everything was a blur – the sparks and the stretch of black wings against the warehouse walls, Bobby's kitchen, right before his trip into his parents' past, at a park after Halloween, outside the motel in Kripke's Hollow, out in the Singer Salvage Yard, the Green Room, the night after the brothel, Camp Chitaqua and the dark street corner, on the porch after losing Ellen and Jo, after Castiel woke up from his return to the present and after he was done puking up the raw meat, the last nights before Detroit, the minutes after Sam was gone forever and the minutes before Castiel abandoned Dean with lingering words about peace and freedom.

There was a hand on his shoulder, sliding over the smooth burns. Lips on his, on his closed eyes, his nose, his chin, his neck, his collarbone, over the tattoo, and down, down, down. Fingertips, soft and strong and warm, traced symbols and sigils on his body while something voiceless, something barely there, pressed in an impression that for a fleeting second filled in part of the emptiness in his life.

I'm still here.

And if Dean sobbed and reached out for it, well, it was his dream and he'd never tell.

Except when he woke up to Lisa stroking his head and asking, "Who's Cas?"

Dean watched her, studied the morning light on her face while his heart slowed to an easy tempo and he remembered that everything Castiel stood for was in the past now.

"Someone I knew," he said and closed his eyes.


"Bobby had some stuff from his last visit to Missouri, so we just purified the place."

"Didn't that…not work last time?"

"Maybe this one was a weak poltergeist? It's gone now, which is all that matters. Bobby wants to drop the trickster hunt for now; trail's gone cold."

"Yeah, well." Dean stretches out, relishing the feel of cool bed sheets, and nearly loses his hold on the cell phone. He fumbles for a bit and manages to plaster it to the side of his head. "Can't catch 'em all."

Sam snorts. "Don't tell me you watch Pokemon."

"What?"

"Never mind-Bobby's finally out. We'll be there in four hours."

"Take your time," Dean says, and snaps the phone shut before Sam says anything else. He tosses it onto the bedside table and rubs his face into the pillow. It smells faintly of sweat and sex and something he can't quite put his finger on.

The mattress dips and Dean rolls over, cracking an eye open.

For a long moment he just stares. A part of him is still in disbelief over what happened yesterday, but mostly he just feels incredibly relaxed. At peace. Happy. He hasn't felt that in a very long time.

Castiel is staring at the unbuttoned sleeve of his untucked shirt and his tie hangs lose from his shoulder. His hair looks a little less unruly but the hickeys aren't gone from his neck. He seems to be selectively erasing evidence of last night, which is both amusing and a bit of a turn-on.

"Back to Heaven?" he asks.

Castiel glances up at him, his eyes brilliantly blue in the midmorning sun. He says nothing but his long fingers deftly button up the sleeve on his left arm.

"They won't be back for a few hours," Dean adds. He smirks but the archangel still says nothing. His heart sinks and with a hard swallow Dean turns his head away and fixes his eyes on the ceiling. Bobby needs to do something about the water stains andfuck, yesterday wasn't supposed to happen and fuck, he feels like such a girl right now.

Then quite suddenly all he sees are brilliant blue irises and there's a mouth latched onto his, a quick hot tongue caressing his bottom lip and teasing its way inside. With a moan Dean opens up, then wraps his hand around the back of Castiel's head and brings him down. The archangel smells incredibly human, salt and sex and that something else that's distinctively him – ozone, rain, frankincense and myrrh – and tastes sweet with just a hint of Scotch. No morning breath. Goddamn archangel.

Castiel pulls away to nuzzle his neck and Dean shudders, squirms at the slide of stubble along the sensitive skin. He'd probably purr if he was a cat.

"I don't know how to say goodbye," Castiel says, voice slightly muffled as his lips trace the words along his pulse and Adam's apple, "when I'm just going to come back."

Dean laughs at that, a hoarse sound in the air. "Just say 'I'll see you later'. It's not hard."

The archangel hums in response as he starts to push himself up. Then he's kissing Dean again, crawling on top of him and straddling him while licking into his mouth and curling his tongue around Dean's. Dean groans and wraps an arm around Castiel, tries to bring him even closer while bucking his hips up. Castiel answers with a slow slide over his body that has Dean hard in seconds, and he swears when the pleasant friction disappears.

"Heaven needs me," Castiel says quietly, although he's breathless and his eyes are dark with want.

"Couple of minutes," Dean suggests. "Half an hour."

He punctuates this with a very pointed thrust and a fisted hand on the wrinkled shirt pulling Castiel down for another, thorough kiss. The archangel can disappear on him at any moment so as much as Dean would like to take off the shirt and pants again, kick off the sheets to indulge in the glorious slide of skin on skin, he doesn't; he sticks to keeping his tongue inside that sweet hot mouth for as long as he can while rubbing himself against the slender body on top of his until he comes.

"You're very demanding," Castiel murmurs, pressing open-mouthed kisses along his jaw and down his throat.

"I'm just making up for lost time."

Castiel makes a noncommittal noise as he latches his mouth on a spot and sucks hard.

Five hours later - "We ran over a freaking Chupacabra!" - Sam and Bobby finally pull into the yard and Dean rises from his seat on the steps to greet them. With a half-drunk bottle of beer swinging from his fingers he punches Sam on the shoulder with his other hand and grabs one of the duffels bag from the trunk.

"Better not have made a mess of my house while I was gone," Bobby grumbles as he walks past with a slight limp. Dean turns to Sam with a raised questioning eyebrow and frowns because Sam is giving him an even odder look.

"What?"

Sam makes a gesture towards his own neck. "You, uh, you have a hickey."

Dean shrugs it off, although the tips of his ears burn. He can still feel those lips, that mouth sucking on the spot while the archangel teased and coaxed him along with his body, and he shivers as he makes his way up the stairs. Next time he's asking Castiel to make them disappear before he leaves.

"I've been looking up some stuff online," Dean says as Sam drops his duffel bag on the couch and heads for the kitchen, where Bobby's already extracting the last bottles of beer. "Supposedly there's a family of man-eating bears up in Montana."

"Could be bears."

"Could be a Wendigo."

"Well if it is," Bobby says, popping the caps off two bottles and passing one to Sam, "you boys can take it. I'm too old for this shit."

He takes a long swig and walks out of the kitchen and down the hall to his room.

"You keep saying that," Dean calls out and Bobby says something that may or may not include the word "idjit". Grinning and shaking his head Dean takes another swig of his now lukewarm beer and turns to Sam. "Poltergeist toss him around?"

Sam is giving him an even odder look than a few minutes ago. "Yeah," he says slowly, like he's trying to connect a few thoughts. "Put up a fight; didn't want to leave the house. Why are you happy?"

"What?" He replays what Sam just said. "I'm not allowed to be happy?"

Sam seems to come to himself, distant gaze suddenly sharpening as he realizes what he just said. "That's not what I meant. I mean, you're really, really happy. What happened?"

His eyes flick down to his neck. Dean slaps a hand over the hickey, because it'll hide the other older marks on his neck, and turns away, thumb rubbing on the damp bottle label. He can't see himself sitting Sam down and saying, "Cas and I hooked up." He can't…explain how much better he actually feels about everything, like Castiel's angel-shaped peg finally fits in his playing board alongside Sam's, Bobby's, Lisa's, and Ben's. And the Impala's, Dean adds mentally, thinking fondly of the memories layered in her weathered frame.

He ignores the baffled frown on Sam's face as he laughs into the bottle of beer, drains it, and sets it next to the ones from yesterday.

"I need to kill something," Dean says and points at the newspaper clippings and printouts on the kitchen table. "Where do you want to start?"

Castiel returns in the evening. Sam's upstairs, napping, and Bobby's looking for something in his newly organized library. Dean's on the couch, reading up on Korean fox demons and mentally comparing them to werewolves, when the air stirs, lifting the corners of the book pages, and his nose fills with ozone and electricity.

"So," he says, lifting his head and meeting a darkened blue gaze. "Did you boss around Heaven a bit-"

Castiel takes the book from his hands, tosses it at the other end of the couch, and proceeds to climb into his lap while cupping his face with smooth hot hands and kissing the hell out of him. Slick tongues slide and teeth clash as they try to fit their mouths; Dean grips the archangel's hips, pulling him flush against-

"So I was just thinking that the, uh, gumiho could explain why…"

Dean does not whine when Castiel breaks the kiss. Breathless, flushing with arousal and embarrassment, he glances at Sam, who's hovering at the doorway with the most amazing look on his face. Before he can say anything Castiel looks over his shoulder and says, "Go away."

Sam takes a step back. "Uh, yeah, um. Maybe you should, uh, you know what, I don't know."

Dean starts laughing as Sam abruptly disappears and stomps up the stairs. Then he leans forward, flicks his tongue out at the shell of Castiel's left ear, and says, "We could take this elsewhere, you know, and not traumatize the others."

Castiel gives him that sly sideways glance and suddenly Dean's on his back, Castiel climbing over him; it's suddenly dark except for the orange light that Dean recognizes as the ones Bobby hangs around the salvage yard and he smells sun-kissed leather and old car freshener.

"The car?" Dean demands while Castiel alternates between mouthing his neck and shedding his trench coat. The backseat is not made for two men and Dean's already feeling it; his head's pressing hard against the door and his left leg keeps sliding off the seat. "You couldn't aim for, I don't know, a motel room?"

"That requires renting it for the night," Castiel says as he tugs the button-down off Dean's shoulder. "Off."

"Since when did you care about renting before fucking?" he asks as he sits up as far as he can without banging his head against Castiel's and tugs the shirt off. "Just find an empty room-"

Hands grip his shoulders and he's pushed back down; the archangel shifts, looking for a better position, and Dean almost points that out as a reason for a nice motel bed except the words get caught in his throat when Castiel finds it and moves.

"Or I'm just impatient."

Dean can live with that. Also, Castiel is overdressed; he pushes the suit jacket over his shoulder and then starts loosening the tie, fingers fumbling.

"Next time we are getting a room with a goddamn bed," Dean says, breath hitching when smooth, strong hands slide under his shirt and stroke his side. "And if I find stains on the seat-"

"You talk too much," Castiel interrupts and kisses him.


"Cas, are you God?"

"That's a nice compliment, but no."


The house is blessedly quiet after Sam and Dean leave for California's Orange County. Something about ambulances carrying livers for transplant surgery being attacked and coroner's offices and morgues being raided and recently deceased bodies being gutted. It sounds like a gory case and Bobby doesn't regret sitting out this hunt. Plus the way the idiots are acting around each other – Dean seems cheerfully oblivious to the calculating looks Sam keeps throwing his way – tells Bobby he does not want to be there for one of Sam's talks.

The sympathetic look Castiel sends him, because the archangel decided to drop by for breakfast for some reason, tells him he's not alone in this assessment.

The limp is gone but his body is still aching in places, still sore from being thrown into walls and old dressers. His age is starting to show, which is downright depressing and requires whiskey to get over. Because in his house it's never too early to start drinking. One of the "perks" of hunting, he supposes.

Bobby stops at the doorway linking the kitchen to his study.

"Oh what now?" he demands.

Crowley sets down the thin hardcover he'd been flipping through and tucks his hands into his long coat, because apparently he's impervious to the weather. "Nothing."

"Better be," Bobby says and edges around the demon to the desk. He sits down, checks quickly to make sure his pistol's still in the top drawer, and then leans down to pull out the one with the Scotch and the shot glass. "Don't you have better things to do?"

"Do I? I don't think so, not at the moment."

"Then what the hell are you doing in my house?"

"Oh, I just want to apologize for the whiskey-"

Bobby freezes and then sits back up. He slowly tugs open the top drawer. "You drank my whiskey?"

"-and what happened on your desk."

He glances down at the clutter. As far as he can tell nothing's happened to it since he left with Sam to hunt a trickster in New Mexico. Unless Dean decided to shuffle things around, which he does whenever he actually researches something. But why would Crowley bother to care?

"Why?" he asks slowly, filtering suspicion into his voice. "What happened on my desk?"

Crowley snorts. "Like I'm going to tell you all the dirty details. Ask Dean."

"What does Dean have to do with-" Did Crowley just say "dirty details"?

He does remember having to be subject to Sam's earlier nonstop commentary on the state of Dean's neck – more information than Bobby needs in his life, because he makes it his business not to give a shit who Dean hooks up with – and the looks Sam keeps passing him during breakfast. Because Bobby's mind is a hunter's mind he remembers making a passing note on Sam's determination not to look at their resident archangel, who kept stealing Dean's burnt coffee, as well as Dean's uncharacteristic, grating cheer, which got worse when Castiel popped into the kitchen and-Bobby pushes his chair away from the desk. "No."

Crowley grins and withdraws a hand from his pocket. Something glints in his fingers and then Crowley flips an old coin onto the desk. "Oh yes."

Bobby groans and covers his face. He's going to kick Dean's ass, or Crowley's, he hasn't decided yet. "I am too old for this." Crowley starts to say something and Bobby glares at him. "You, out of my house before I decide to exorcise you."

The crossroads demon rolls his eyes and vanishes. Bobby gets up, gives his desk a wide berth as he goes to the house phone, and dials.

"Rufus? Tell me you're hunting something and you need backup."