Bobby started looking into the angels' little problem the very next day. He enlisted Sam to help him sort through the books he already had at hand in the study, identifying and setting aside all those that might contain anything even remotely related to angelic lore. After that, all there was to do was sit down and painstakingly sift through it all.
Sam couldn't actually remember seeing Dean volunteer for research so enthusiastically in his life – though it didn't take him long to realise that it was only because his brother was hoping to give Gabriel back his powers as soon as possible, so that the archangel could be on his merry way that much faster. It wasn't a noble effort by any means, but Sam still felt a little guilty that he didn't share the same enthusiasm as he worked his way through his own stack of books. Truth was, he'd grown kind of... accustomed to Gabriel's invasive, irritating presence. It'd be weird when he didn't have a reason to stick around anymore.
So they read. And read. And read some more. When they actually started to run out of books, Bobby resorted to calling up contacts of his who might be able to help, and made Dean drive into town a couple of days later to pick up the new texts that had been dropped off in a storage locker there. Then, increasingly desperate, they'd even persuaded Crowley to do a little asking around within demonic circles. He'd refused point blank to begin with, even with the litany of growled abuse Bobby had given him, but then Gabriel quietly said something to him and the demon was gone like a shot.
Suspicious, Sam pulled the archangel aside afterwards.
"Please tell me you didn't just give him your soul."
"I'm an angel. Technically I don't have a soul to give."
"...Please tell me you didn't just give him any of our souls."
"Actually I promised to give him all the dirt I ever had on your brother. His man-crush on Dr Sexy is top of the list, by the way."
Sam snorted. "Hell, if he comes back with something good, I'll tell him about the time Dean shrieked at a cat myself."
But Crowley didn't come back with anything good. He came back as clueless and empty handed as they were, even after a week of solid research. All they could reasonably conclude was that nothing similar had ever happened to another angel before – or, if it had, it'd never been documented.
So yeah. Newsflash: Cas and Gabriel were special.
"Maybe you just need more time to heal," Sam offered resignedly once again, when it became clear that they'd at last run out of research options.
He glanced around the study at his companions. Gabriel was perched on Bobby's desk, his heels kicking idly against the wood. Castiel stood with his back to the wall, fixedly watching Dean spin himself around in a computer chair, a book balanced precariously on his forehead. It was safe to say they'd all become a little discouraged.
When no one responded to him, Sam tried again, making a vague and helpless sort of hand gesture. "Maybe Grace takes a while to, yanno... regenerate."
Dean made a sceptical sound, finally sitting up straight and allowing the book to drop into his waiting hands. "Or maybe they're just human now, and that's the end of it."
Behind him, Castiel flinched involuntarily.
Gabriel scowled. "Nice, Deano. What happened – you were too busy standing in line for second helpings of Dumbass Luck while they were handing out Tact?"
Apparently even Dean realised he'd overstepped a line, as he grunted a reluctant apology.
Sam sighed. "Look, how about we give the heavy-duty study sessions a break for now, since they don't actually seem to be helping us any. Okay?" As it happened, he personally considered it a minor miracle that Gabriel and Dean had been able to work together for so long without one or both of them resorting to violence, so he was all for not pushing their luck any further than necessary.
"Yeah, whatever," Dean muttered, pushing himself up from his chair. "I'll be outside if anyone needs me."
Sam watched his brother stalk from the room, wondering absently if it was too soon after their reunion to be needing a break from Dean's issues.
Dean spent a good two hours out in the yard tampering with the Impala's engine. There was nothing on her that actually needed fixing, of course. Dean treated his baby far too good for that. But sometimes she provided a great excuse for a little alone time.
Still, he shouldn't actually need alone time, he reminded himself angrily. He'd spent five months wishing for nothing but the return of the people he'd just left back inside (well, except maybe Gabriel). It was just...
Well, it turned out that 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' wasn't exactly the bullshit sentimental drivel that Dean had always thought it. And Cas had been pretty damn absent for a long time. It made hanging out with him all day every day sort of... difficult. At least if he was at all hoping to get through another evening without unexpectedly jumping the angel.
Suddenly frustrated, he wondered what the hell was wrong with him. He wasn't even gay, for fuck's sake. Never in his life had he felt any particular need to get it on with another guy. He was just... having something of a minor midlife crisis, was all. Okay, alright, fine – he might have had a few questionable moments in the past (the panties incident sprang to mind, along with the occasional mild crush on decidedly male actors), but this was different. This was Cas, the only real friend he'd ever had who wasn't Sam, and he couldn't chance screwing that up. Especially when Cas still had something so weirdly innocent going for him. He deserved better than Dean's personal brand of corruption. Dude was still a virgin, for Christ's sake...
...Unless of course he'd gone and done something to change that fact in the past month, with only Sam and Gabriel to watch out for him, neither of whom could have done as good a job as Dean would. He glared at the interior of the Impala's engine, trying to ignore the sharp pang of hostility that shot through him at the thought that they might have let Cas sleep with some random chick who wouldn't even have known anything about him (along with the memory of his own disastrous attempt to orchestrate the very same thing back at the whorehouse that one time. Seriously. What the fuck had he been thinking?)
Annoyed at himself, he slammed the hood shut with more force than strictly necessary, and, pausing only to mutter a sheepish apology to his baby, he admitted defeat and slouched back towards the house.
And completely in keeping with the craptastic run of irony Dean had been noticing lately, Cas was the only one present in the living room when he wandered in. The angel was perched comfortably at one end of the couch, his legs curled up under him with a book in his lap. Dean wouldn't have thought he'd ever see the day when Castiel unbent enough to sit like that. It was stupidly endearing.
"Hey," he greeted awkwardly, hovering. "Where is everybody?"
Castiel glanced up at him complacently. "Against all advice, Bobby is currently playing chess with the demon in his study. And as for your brother, Gabriel said something to him about a 'google' and a 'youtube', and they've been upstairs ever since. They took the laptop."
Dean took an automatic step towards the stairs, already entertaining half-formed thoughts of forcefully reminding Gabriel exactly what he'd said about not being alone with Sam – but then he caught himself, realising the pointlessness of doing so. Not only was Gabriel a persistent little shit who'd find a way to do exactly what Dean said not to if it killed him, he'd also been effectively alone with Sam for more than a month already. If the archangel was ever going to succeed in corrupting his brother, he'd have done it by now.
"Screw it..." Sighing with annoyance, he looked around for a distraction. The TV was off, so he grabbed the remote and hit power, carelessly dropping down onto the couch next to Cas. The angel bounced slightly with the impact, but didn't react except to calmly turn a page in his book. It wasn't research, Dean was thankful to see, but one of those long-winded so called 'classics' that Sam read sometimes. Dean eyed it, making a mental note to introduce Cas to sci-fi some time.
He flipped channels for a few minutes, not paying any real attention to the shows he passed by, but content just to sit for a while. He kept one arm thrown along the back of the couch, stretched out towards Cas but careful never to accidentally touch. Castiel continued to read peacefully, undisturbed.
After a while, Dean cleared his throat. "Hey, Cas. Listen. I really am sorry about earlier. Yanno, for saying you might be stuck like this."
Castiel glanced across at him, considering, then shook his head. "It doesn't matter. It's a possibility I should come to terms with, I suppose."
"Yeah, but I shouldn't have–"
"Truly, Dean. It's alright." Castiel tipped his head wryly. "You've said far more thoughtless things in the past and I've forgiven you even when you haven't apologised."
He winced. "...Oh." Well that just made him feel so much better about the whole thing.
"There is something I wanted to ask you, however." He closed his book, tapping the cover nervously.
Dean shrugged, flipping a few more channels. "Shoot."
"Can we stay with you?"
He glanced across at the angel, uncomprehending. "What?"
Cas studied his hands. "Gabriel and I, that is. If this condition is... permanent. It's just that I'm not sure we'd have anywhere to go if..."
Dean slowly swivelled around to face the angel, one knee bent and resting on the cushions. "Cas, come on. Seriously? As if you have to ask." He paused. "Well, no, Gabriel might have to ask. Gabriel might have to fucking beg if he doesn't wanna get left at the side of the road somewhere. But you... You're like family, man. Course you're coming with."
The angel blinked like he was surprised, and then did that thing where he was suddenly wearing an expression of warm affection, without ever actually having moved a facial muscle. "Thank you."
Dean flushed slightly and looked away. "S'fine. Not a big deal. And anyway," he added, aiming for cheerful, "if that's our worst case scenario, it's not so bad. Is it? I mean, we could get started showing you all the good parts of being human–"
Castiel stopped him with a look. "Dean. No more brothels, please."
And okay, that might have come as a small relief to hear, though it was probably just about the last thing he'd been about to suggest. He made a show of nodding thoughtfully, allowing his channel hopping to settle on a rerun of America's Next Top Model. "Well, if you're sure..."
"I am. Besides," he added, intently watching Dean watch the catwalk models onscreen, "I'm not sure I have quite the same... appreciation for women that you do."
Dean blinked, making an effort to tear his gaze away from the pretty girls who even now caught his attention, to frown confusedly at the angel for a moment or two. Then, as he finally caught on to what Cas was trying to say, his eyebrows shot suddenly towards his hairline. "Wait. You, uh– You mean you're...?"
Castiel smiled self-deprecatingly, then seemed to hesitate. "Will that be a problem? I know humans sometimes harbour misgivings about certain tendencies."
"Problem–? No! No. God no." He blinked some more. Was he actually... hearing this? Castiel really did mean what Dean thought he meant, right? He had just admitted to crushing on guys rather than girls, and Dean wasn't just losing his freaking mind to wishful thinking, right?
There was a small chance he was panicking.
But Cas still looked a little uncertain over Dean's reaction, so he managed to scrape together enough presence of mind to add, "Seriously, it's uh... It's cool. I spent a whole two years convinced Sammy swung that way back when we were teenagers. I kind of made my peace with it then."
Castiel smiled again, though this time there was some private amusement in the expression. "You may wish to keep that sort of forbearance in mind."
"Nothing of importance."
Dean probably would have pushed the matter any other time, but currently he was too distracted in staring at Cas like it was the first time he'd ever seen him properly. He felt ridiculously pleased that the angel had told him, as if it was some kind of privilege or something, and not the chick-flick moment it so obviously actually was.
And just like that, in a brief, shining moment of bad judgement, all of Dean's good intentions went straight out the window. He completely forgot, for a second, the whole spiel about Cas being his best friend and how it might be unwise to mess with that. He forgot entirely about the small fact that he wasn't actually gay. He even forgot his noble resolution not to corrupt the innocence of a virgin angel.
In short, he forgot pretty much anything which might have told him that what he was about to do next was a thoroughly stupid idea.
Rational thought having flat-lined, Dean didn't hesitate when the unformed want in him finally solidified itself: he simply took a breath and surged forward, determinedly closing the distance between them. It was maybe the most recklessly brave thing he'd ever done – and, as usual, it had the customary backfired consequences of any of his more daring heroics.
Castiel let out an aborted sound of shock as their lips met, going rigidly still beneath the insistent press of Dean's mouth. He hadn't yet mastered human intimacies, even now, and it left him frozen, utterly uncertain about how to respond correctly. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what Dean wanted him to do. He'd witnessed acts of kissing since coming to Earth, of course; watched humans perform their careful, precise press of faces. That didn't mean he knew anything about doing it himself. Kissing, it seemed to him, was the sharing of lips and tongue and breath and saliva, and frankly he couldn't fathom why it was regarded as pleasurable. As a matter of fact, it looked messy and undignified and vaguely unhygienic, and, from what he could tell, tended to serve as little more than the prelude to a sexual encounter.
And with that thought came real panic.
From what little Castiel knew of sexual encounters (knowledge which was, admittedly, gleaned only through watching Dean's past behaviour with women, and Gabriel's blunt explanation of intercourse) he could only conclude that they were brief and fleeting affairs which usually marked the end of an equally fleeting acquaintance. Sex seemed to him something horribly daunting. It was intense and physical and verging on violent. In no way did he equate it with anything he felt for Dean.
Overwhelmed by the thought and by his own inexperience, he turned his head aside sharply, ending the moment of connection.
Dean gasped slightly and immediately backed off, wide eyed and suddenly pale. He shook his head minutely, and after a few seconds managed to choke out, "...Sorry." The hand that had come to rest on Castiel's shoulder was hurriedly snatched back. "I, I thought... Nothing. Never mind. Sorry."
"Dean." He inclined his head regretfully, wanting nothing more than to say something that would remove the pained expression from the other's face; wanting to explain that it wasn't a rejection, not of Dean. Truthfully, he loved the man in front of him more than many would consider it appropriate to love any human. He simply couldn't bring himself to sacrifice that for one or two instances of physical satisfaction.
But then it was too late to explain anything, because Dean was gone without another word, without looking back, fleeing once again to the safety of his car and leaving Castiel to wonder what had just happened.