Driving home from the party, Dean sighed. He wasn't sure how he could explain himself any more clearly. "You can't 'Irish up' a diet Sprite, Cas."

"I don't see why not," answered Castiel reasonably. "They were more than willing to Irish up your coffee."

"No, you can't because there's no such thing as an Irish Sprite. Irish coffee, yes. Irish Sprite, no."

"Actually, sprites play a central role in Irish folklore."

Dean squinted. He was fairly certain that at least some of Castiel's non-sequiturs were intentional. "Why were you drinking diet Sprite anyway?"

"Because I enjoy the refreshing taste of Sprite and appreciate the health benefits of reduced caloric intake."

"Well, stop trying to booze-ify your girl sodas."

"Of course not now," replied Castiel calmly. "We're in your car and that would be an open container violation."

Dean chuckled and fiddled with the radio. They settled into a comfortable quiet as the classic rock DJ interrupted the music to remind listeners they were hearing uninterrupted music.

"I," Cas paused, "like the clothing you selected for this evening. It is…pleasant."

Dean snorted. "You really suck at flirting."

"I spent much of my adolescence planning to become a priest. I did not expect that romance would be a skill I would need to cultivate."

"A priest? Seriously? And here I thought you just had Asperger's."

Castiel made a very quiet exhalation that might have been a laugh.

Dean tried to gauge whether he had offended the other man, but gave it up for a lost cause – Cas was as unreadable as ever. "So how did you go from the priesthood to the world's most depressing job?"

Castiel cocked his head to the side. "I don't think of my job as depressing. Death is a part of life."


Castiel sniffed in a dignified sort of way. "Answering your original question, it is a little known fact of Catholic doctrine that gay men are excluded from the priesthood. I could have lied, I suppose, but using dishonesty to enter the seminary seemed to be," he paused and made air-quotes, "missing the point."

"That's bullshit, man. What's it matter who you're not having sex with? I mean, I'm glad you're not a priest and all, but, you know…"

Castiel looked as though he were about to vigorously agree, but he said nothing. They lapsed into silence for a few moments before Castiel asked, "How is your brother doing?"

"He's," Dean sighed, "he's…you remember how he was when we first met? I think he's headed there again."

Six Months Ago

The psychiatric emergency waiting room was unbearable. The whole PE ward was locked, so if you wanted to go get a coffee or just get away from the crazy for a few minutes, you had to track down a nurse with a key and try to interrupt without pissing her off too badly. The other patients were a nightmare. Dean couldn't help watching every freak who cried like a toddler or pissed on the floor and wonder if that's where Sam was headed. And of course, the worst part was that it was a waiting room, at precisely the time that Dean did not want to be waiting. He wanted to take action, not sit around and let a bunch of asshole doctors decide his brother's fate.

For a while, there was only one other person in the room: a man a few years older than Dean, dressed in an ill-fitting suit and trench coat. The guy was kind of hot, in a uptight tax accountant sort of way. The man had sat very still, seemingly unbothered by the wait. Then Dean got called over by some staff lady to update insurance paperwork and when he got back, there was no one else in the waiting room.

Dean heard the tell-tale double click of someone being buzzed in to the locked area and the man reappeared, carrying two coffees. He handed one to Dean.

"Here," said the man, "you look like you could use it."

"Thanks," said Dean. He didn't really feel like making small talk, but he had been in this fucking waiting room for four fucking hours and any distraction was better than none. He extended his hand. "Dean," he said. "Dean Campbell."

"Castiel Novak," answered the man. He had a surprisingly strong handshake.

"Novak?" asked Dean. "As in the Novaks? As in buy-and-sell this whole city Novaks?" There was a dynasty of unbelievably wealthy real estate moguls who owned or managed most of the property in the city, toyed with local elections, and smiled in a sickeningly clean way on billboards and bus ads. Like most residents, Dean faintly hated them.

"I'm related, but not part of the family business. 'The' Novak brothers, Michael and Raphael, are my cousins." Castiel vocally emphasized the word 'the' as Dean had, with the addition of inelegant air quotes.

"So what do you do?"

"I'm a hospice nurse," said Castiel. When comprehension failed to dawn on Dean's face, he added, "I provide medical care, mostly palliative and comfort care, to the dying."

"Fuck, that sounds awful. No wonder you're in the nuthouse."

"I'm not here for my own mental health; I'm here for work. A family member of one of my clients…" He paused, clearly considering the confidentiality rules that might apply to the situation, "required transport here. I'm waiting until they finish admitting her."

"Or don't admit her," Dean pointed out. "They don't always take people, especially if the crazy changes her mind and says she doesn't want to stay. They've set Sam free without admitting him a few times, because he says he wants to leave and they say they can't make him stick around. As if what he says when he's like this actually counts for anything. I mean, I'm all for freedom, but what the hell kind of freedom is it when the reason you don't want to stay in the hospital is that a demon is trying to trick you into drinking her blood." That had been a terrible few months, with Sam refusing to drink or touch liquids. Sam stank and Dean had spent a small fortune on watermelons and popsicles trying to keep him from succumbing to dehydration.

"Is Sam your…"

"Brother. He's a…uh…frequent flyer here." Dean slumped in his seat, exhausted. "God, I hope they admit him."

Castiel nodded, his face neutral. He didn't seem freaked out by Dean's little rant. Most people who knew Dean well enough to know that he lived with his brother knew that Sam was disabled, and about half of those people knew that it was a mental illness. But Dean had stopped sharing the details with anyone. They stared, they stepped back, they kept their girlfriends away. They looked horrified and scared and grossed out and Dean just got sick of it.

"Maybe I just want a break." Dean was babbling and he couldn't seem to stop. "Maybe I just want one night's sleep where I don't have to worry that he'll wander off into the fucking street."

"I believe that is standard among those caring for someone with a severe illness."

Dean wasn't sure what reaction he had expected, but TheraSpock wasn't it. Not bad, just unexpected, though in Dean's life, unexpected and shitty usually went hand-in-hand. He took a long drink of his coffee because he couldn't think of anything to say. He was saved by a physician who beckoned Mr. Novak across the room to discuss something.

Maybe Dean needed to get out more, but he was enjoying the view of Castiel Novak from behind. He tore a piece of paper off of the newspaper and scribbled his phone number, along with his name and 'what the hell? worth a shot. bet you could use a break too'.

blood blood blood bone and blood blood blood

Sam wakes up to the one voice that never leaves him.

look at that in the newspaper that blood blood blood that woman that bitch dead with maggots that eat her corpse blood

Out loud, Sam calls the voice 'Jack' because he doesn't want Dean to worry, but that's not the voice's real name. His name is Winchester and he never stops talking to Sam.

spot on the wall dripping wall that woman write type click click click drip drip drip

When he's on his meds, Sam can ignore Winchester, understands that the things Winchester says may or may not be true. Mostly. Winchester makes sense, though. And he never shuts up. The docs tried to get the dose high enough to make Winchester go away, but the only time they succeeded, Sam was literally drooling, barely awake, his tongue wouldn't stop sliding in and out of his mouth, and his eyes fluttered uncontrollably.

look at that girl think how she would look without skin think how she would look with a knife in her cunt

So Sam just has to live with Winchester.

Hi Sam. Long time, no spooning.

Lucifer makes more sense than Winchester, and Lucifer sometimes goes away. Sometimes he doesn't even pester Sam, just tells him about other people's sins. Other times he reads to Sam or recites the entirety of Our Town, that stupid play Sam was in as a high schooler. He likes to confuse Sam about what's real and what's not.

Lucifer never talks to Winchester and Winchester never talks to Lucifer. They both just talk to Sam, sometimes at the same time. When they do that, Sam can't pay attention to anything else. He tried to explain it to Dean one time. He said it was like that stupid thing they did when they were kids where if one of them was counting something, the other would yell out random numbers and it was pretty much impossible to keep counting correctly.

Saaaaa-aaaaam. Sam! Quit ignoring me! This is important. You have to get back to the real world. You might be enjoying your little vacation in happy land with your brother and your pal, but it comes at a price.

blood blood blood bone and blood blood blood

Sam tries to tune them both out and picks up a controller to play Lego Star Wars with Gabriel.

"I would invite you back to my apartment," said Castiel, "but I imagine you would prefer to get home to your brother."

Dean rubbed his forehead. If anyone else were talking about inviting him back to their apartment, he would have been totally sure that sex was on the table, but Cas was freaking Captain Oblivious, which was how they had managed to hang out for months without ever being entirely clear whether they were pals or boyfriends, an issue which Dean would normally be quick to clarify, but he was weirdly hesitant to screw things up with Cas.

"You're welcome to come back to my place," said Dean, wishing he didn't feel and/or sound like a goddamn thirteen-year-old.

When Dean leaned forward put his key in the lock, he could hear the distinctive background music of Katamari Damacy. It hadn't occurred to him that Gabriel might still be at the apartment – Gabriel, who would waste no time embarrassing Cas and killing the mood. He glanced back at Castiel, who was standing perfectly still, facing the wall. "Remember that kid I told you about who volunteers with Sam?"


"Well, he's still here. Just ignore him and don't let him get to you."

Dean opened the door with one hand, crossing his fingers with the other, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the universe would cut him some slack and he would get laid tonight.

Castiel walked into the small apartment, stepping carefully over the loose floorboard, to see Dean's younger brother playing a video game, sitting on the sofa next to-

"Gabriel?" asked Castiel, in a vaguely shocked tone. Why wouldn't Dean have mentioned…

"Oh, hey! I uh…" The kid immediately got up from the couch and started gathering his things.

"Wait, wait," said Dean. "You guys know each other?"

"Nope," said Gabriel in an innocent tone, while Castiel simultaneously said, "Of course."

"We're cousins," said Castiel, puzzled. "I would have thought the matching last names would have piqued your curiosity."

Dean pointed to Gabriel. "But his last name is Laufe-"

Gabe interrupted. "You know, Dean, sometimes people use fake names. Sometimes people don't want to carry on the family legacy. Maybe you know a little about-"

"You shut your goddamn mouth!" hissed Dean.

"Everybody be quiet!" yelled Sam. "Please," he said in a softer voice, "I just want it to be quiet."