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Human Perspective


After the fall Dean realizes he's not trying teach Castiel to be human for purely selfless reasons; he hopes to gain something from it, too.

Adventure / Romance
5.0 2 reviews
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And there was Silence in the House of Judgement

He dripped resentment. It trailed along behind him like a slug's trail all the way down the hall. Bitterness oozed from his pores. When he opened his mouth, it bubbled out and ran down his chin, down the front of his borrowed clothes. His eyes held accusations that couldn’t get past the pupils and he held defiance against him like a blanket against the cold. He hissed hate, or what he perceived as hate, toward a humanity he once cherished. And he meant not a word. He was so lost in himself and lashing out: everyone does it, everyone uses pain as a weapon. And for a while, if the pain is great enough, they don’t care who they hurt.

There is no choosing your battles wisely when everything is your battle.

“This is just basic stuff,” Dean Winchester yelled down the hall at the retreating form. "It's shit you gotta know, you dumbass, not everyone is going to give you a pass!”

Castiel whipped around, drew back his arm, and threw the tube of toothpaste as hard as he could. Dean ducked to one side of the hall and it bounced off the wall, landed at his feet.

What Dean really wanted to do was chase Cas down the hall, grab him by his fucking fat head and slam him into the wall until he was unconscious. Then he wanted to drag him into the bathroom and chain him to the toilet and stick the toothpaste tube right up his … but he couldn’t, of course, he wouldn’t. Breathe, repeat the mantra of Sam.

You gotta give him some time to adjust. You got to give him some time to adjust.

Speaking of Sam, Dean reached down and snatched the toothpaste tube up. Cas had retreated into his room, baring his teeth like a wolverine (oh sweet defiance) and slammed his door. Sam was probably brimming with questions about this current exchange and would use it as an excuse to get out of bed if Dean didn’t head him off. So Dean went down to the other end of the hall, paused at a doorway, tapped on the frame. He wasn't going to ask if Sam was awake: there was no way he slept through that.

“What’s it this time?” Sam said from inside his room. Dean leant around the door frame, took a long, deep breath.

“Hygiene,” Dean said. “He has these insane bouts. He will take five baths in three hours, but suggest he brush his teeth and he loses his shit. I don’t know, Sam, I don’t know, I’m this close to beating the shit out him, I swear.”

Sam at least looked better today. Slowly, surely, day by day Sam had more energy. He wasn't as pale. The coughs subsided. But it wasn't easy and it wasn't quick. Early in their new co-habitation, Sam would wake to find Cas lurking like a vulture in his doorway. But Cas had telling eyes, and even though Sam tried to tell him it was okay, that he would be okay and that it was okay Cas couldn’t heal him (because Sam knew that was what it was about), Cas would finally stalk off in silence. Until he found Dean; then he would pick a fight.

Dean was the target of all of Cas’ rage. Sam knew why, but trying to explain it to Dean was a pins and needles subject. So he stayed mostly silent.

“Is he ever going to get over this?” Dean asked, still hanging on the door frame. “Or is he always gonna be like an old dog that hates the world finally but you can’t bring yourself to put it down?”

Sam took a deep breath.

“Dean, yeah, he’s going to get over it. He’s been through a lot. Yeah, we’ve all been through a lot, but Cas … participated, y’know? I’m sure he feels like shit, I’d feel like shit, I did feel like shit for a long, long time. And you know, I’m just going to say this … quit trying to sit on him like a mother hen. I can hear you out there, hell, I even see you doing it when I’m out on the couch watching a movie. Let Cas stumble around trying to figure shit out. Let him come to you. He might be more manageable if you force him to ask you for help.”

“Or he could resentfully kill me in my sleep, great,” Dean smiled. “Thanks for all the sage advice. For now, while Senior Asshole is holed up in his room, I can at least listen to some music uninterrupted and think about what to make for dinner.”

“That’s great, Betty Crocker, why don’t you do that?” Sam said with a half-smirk.

Dean just made a face at him before moving back out the door.

Dean had a love affair with cookbooks. He’d managed to get a few, here and there since moving into the bunker. He had three of them out now on the big war room table, and he was sitting there in his chair, feet on the table, crossed at the ankles. He was reading about chicken marsala. It sounded fancy, yet simple, and the bonus was you could serve it over mashed potatoes, the world’s most perfect food. It seemed like a winner all the way around. He wasn’t aware Cas was there until he was. Cas was still a master of lurking.

Dean jumped, took a deep breath, leveled a look at Cas.

“Fuck, what do you want?” and Dean internally winced because that came out a lot harsher than he intended. Cas kept perpetual dark circles under his eyes now from refusing to sleep. He resented sleep. He resented the need for food and wow, do not even get Dean started on the resentment Cas had for the need to go to the bathroom. That was just epic.

“Are you making food?” Cas grated out. “Don’t make me any,” he finished in a rush.

The same old goddamn song and dance that has been going on for the last two weeks. But this time, Dean practiced the mantra of Sam.

“Fine,” Dean said casually, “I won’t.”

Startled, Cas stood his ground. This was clearly not what he expected.

“I thought you said I had to eat,” Cas challenged, pulling his shoulders up. Dean wondered if that was a leftover from his wings, or some sort of trying to look big and intimidating gesture.

“Yeah, well, I decided you’re a fucking millennium old, you can decide when you fucking eat or what you eat or if you die of fucking malnourishment.” And Dean deliberately went back into his cookbook with his eyes. “You’re eons above me, remember?”

He knew Cas was still standing there, even if Dean wasn’t watching him because he didn’t hear him storm off in a huff. Dean would need to make a grocery run. He wasn’t sure they had any heavy cream for the marsala sauce. He leaned forward, picked up his pen and jotted it down on the notepad there on the table by his feet.

Dean had found inside himself reservoirs of patience he didn’t know he had; or, more correctly, didn’t know he had for anyone other than Sam. It was funny how well the angel had wormed his way in there. And yes, he would always and forever regard Cas as ‘the angel’, because even though he fell, just like all the rest of them, that is what he was. He had tried to remind Cas of that, in the last two weeks of their harrowing adventures. But Cas considered graceless to be worthless and therefore the title to be forfeit. Dean did finally glance up at him.

Cas was just standing there. When Dean looked at him he immediately threw up his defenses, ramped up his war machines, loaded his proverbial guns with all this rage and guilt: because it needed a target. And Sam was sick and Dean was … willing. Dean found he was willing: because Cas deserved someone who would take some abuse from him. God knew, he truly knew, all the abuse Cas took for others.

Dean returned to his cookbook. And it was quiet for a little while longer.

“Sam says you resent me mother-henning you,” Dean finally said, wondering if he’d get a response. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do; well, okay, I am, but that’s just until you learn the ropes. Then I’ll back the fuck off, scout's honor.”

Dean looked up as he heard Cas approach. Cas came to stand right next to him, looking down at him. Dean raised an eyebrow at him, gave a little shrug.

“Dean,” Cas said sounding more like Cas in that very moment than he had since they’d brought him to the bunker, but then he stopped. He just looked at Dean in that long, creepy way he use to when he had grace. The unwavering, unending stare: Dean shifted in his chair.

“Yeah, nice to know you can still do that, but I still can’t read minds,” Dean prompted.

“Are you really not going to feed me?” Cas finally said, lifting his chin.

Damn, they were so close to a real conversation, so close. But no, Cas had to challenge and posture and Dean just rolled his head back a moment, looking at the ceiling. Give him some time, that’s the mantra, right?

“Nope,” Dean said and looked down at his cookbook again.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Cas informed him and moved away. “What time is dinner?” he asked as his voice receded.

“You won’t be having dinner at seven,” Dean called after him, then leaned forward to jot down pie on the notepad by his feet.

Seven o’clock came and went. Then seven fifteen, then seven thirty. At seven forty-three, Cas slunk in to stand beside the table and resentfully nibble at one fork full of plain mashed potatoes before he announced they disgusted him and dropped the fork on the floor. Then he looked at both Dean and Sam and curled his lip before slinking away.

But hey, at least he’d come to the table.

Dean was a genius and he was an adaptable genius and he learned a trick.

This was how Dean approached Cas before:

He would knock on Cas’ door. Cas would open the door just enough for Dean to see one eye. The eye would stare at him with unwavering malice and Dean would put on his most charming smile.

“Hey Cas, we’re going to watch a move, why don’t you come out to the living room?”

Then Cas would shut the door.

The was how Dean approached Cas now:

He knocked on the door and Cas opened the door just enough for Dean to see one eye. The eye stared at him with unwavering malice, but less malice than the day before. Dean put on his most charming smile.

“Hey Cas, Sam wants to watch a movie in the living room and you know, he’s still kind of sick. I have to do laundry, would you mind sitting with him for me?”

The eye looked Dean up and down like he had grown an additional head. Then a miracle happened. Cas opened the door and elbowed Dean out of the way. Dean watched him go down the hall, Dean heard Sam greet him from the living room. Dean Winchester’s work here was done. Now he had work in the laundry room.

Later Sam told him that Cas had slouched the entire movie and snorted with great derision at everything the main character said. When the movie was over ,Cas had glared at him a little bit, then left without a word.

But hey, at least he was out in the living room.

It was a far cry better than Cas hiding in his room, screaming at the walls. Yeah Dean liked it a whole lot better than that. The hiding in the room thing was disturbing. He would scream, in Enochian, for a good hour. He’d keep the door locked and if you rattled the knob he’d get hysterical and scream at you through the door in Enochian. Then, after about an hour he’d get eerily quiet. Only the threat of kicking the door in would get you the murderous eye and the door crack.

Yeah, that was pretty creepy, Dean had to admit.

Another week in and that was all the progress that he’d made. So Dean decided it was time to hit up the local Cas guru, and that was Sam. Sam was much better today. He was in the war room with a bunch of books and his laptop. He was probably making out with his laptop; the co-dependence he had with the thing bordered on mental. Dean came in with a beer, sat down next to Sam and screwed the lid off, took a long swig and made an 'ah’ sound. He did this because he was at home and could make whatever damn sound he pleased.

Sam glanced over at him, but then back to his computer.

“So tell me, you think Cas is getting any less crazy? It’s been three weeks. How long does the crazy last?” Dean drank more beer.

“I think it could last a while,” Sam said, distracted. “It’s a lot to process for anyone.”

As if summoned by name, Cas came ghosting through the war room in bare feet and ragged jeans and a Pink Floyd t-shirt.

Hey, that’s not a shirt you can wear,” Dean groused, pointing. “I fucking showed you which side of the closet you could rummage through.”

Cas stopped, turned slowly to regard Dean. Cas grabbed the t-shirt and pulled on it hard.

“Fuck, don’t stretch it.” Dean slammed his beer down on the war table and jumped up. Cas was unimpressed and continued tugging the shirt down as hard as he could; now he had a lot of chest showing. Dean snorted hard and came around the war table, then Cas scurried off like a cockroach and Sam heard Dean chase him until a door slammed and Dean yelled “Sonuvabitch!” to no one in particular.

Sam looked up as Dean came back to the table, threw himself down in the chair and scowled at his beer.

“Let’s just shoot him,” Dean said. “Put him out of his misery.”

“You know,” Sam said quietly, “for a few days there when we first brought him back? I thought we’d find him hanging by his neck from the rafters or bled out in the tub with his wrists slashed.” Sam gave an involuntary shudder. “He’s actually a lot better than I gave him credit for, considering he must feel responsible for everything.”

Dean had reached for his beer again and now he sat there holding it when it hovering halfway between the table and his lips. It didn’t occur to him to have those thoughts until Sam voiced them. Then he remembered a time, in a motel room: Cas complimenting his father’s handwriting, Cas talking about killing himself. His mouth felt dry; he wet his lips.

“So why didn’t he?” Dean said quietly.

Sam shook his head, leaned back in his chair. Dean knew this was Sam’s cue for a monologue, and why deny his baby brother the pleasure?

“Really, Dean, really? Are we going to keep having his dance around the subject?” Sam asked.

“I like to do the mambo, yeah,” Dean grinned at him, “don’t mean I can read your mind, so what the hell are you talking about?”

“The reason Cas didn’t kill himself, Dean, is pretty damn obvious,” Sam said flatly, “It’s you.”

Dean’s grin faltered then.

Dean Winchester was a degree holding master of Obstinate. He studied at the University of Obstinate in Denial Land, Didn’t Happenville. Sam knew he was following in the footsteps of their father. Dean Winchester had a committed relationship with avoidance. Since he was faithful, avoidance allowed him the ability to no only not discuss any subject of his choosing whatsoever, but also the ability to believe his own deniability. If Dean Winchester had decided, concretely, that it didn’t happen, it just didn’t happen for him, no matter what physical proof you had. This extended to conversation: if Dean didn’t want to have it, it wasn’t going to be had. But Sam had learned Get This Fu, and he could use it with deadly accuracy.

“Get this,” Sam said and Dean jerked and squirmed in his seat. “The more you pretend this isn’t going on, the worse it’s gonna get. Cas is entirely focused on you, Dean. How you can’t see this, I don’t know. You notice he doesn’t go out of his way to provoke me, or torment me or stare at me like he wants me dead. He saves all of that for you. Why? Because he wants your acknowledgment and your attention. He is in a bad way right now, think about it: he lost God, he lost his home and he lost all his siblings. He has nothing but you and to a lesser degree, me. Nothing else, this is it for him, he knows it. He is testing you, he is pushing at you with all his might to see if you’re going to abandon him. It’s true, he thinks he’s worthless, he thinks this is all his fault. Nothing any of us say is going to change that. But you, you he needs like the air he has to breathe now. You are his one, true anchor to this world. If this had happened Dean and you hadn’t found him so fast? He’d be dead. I guarantee it. The only reason he has to keep going is you. You need to man up about it: Cas loves you, Dean, he’s in love with you, Dean. And you need to figure out how you feel about that.”

Sam would have said more on that, too, but he already knew just that much observation was going to take a lot of Dean processing time.

“Honestly,” Sam added, “he could be a lot worse. I would have expected him to be a lot worse; he has it for you bad.”

Dean got up slowly and walked away.

There was a whole new weirdness to everything now.

Even Cas seemed to register it. Now it was Cas' turn to whip around and find Dean staring at him, and Cas even managed to look sort of creeped out about it. He stood there and fidgeted, waiting for Dean to try to reason with him; but Dean just stared. It was so unnerving to Cas the he fled without making subtle gestures of hostility.

Sam was sort of impressed.

Then Kevin Tran came in and the spanner in the works managed to work himself into such new levels of self-loathing that an institute ought to be built just to study them.

Kevin was a prophet of the lord, Cas wanted to make sure they all remembered that.

"You participated in this colossal lie," Cas spat and paced back and forth behind the couch. Dean could only shrug at Kevin and maybe get up fast enough to stop Cas if Cas decided to run over to strangle Kevin.

Dean had assured Kevin that Cas didn't bite; but he was wondering if he'd been too hasty. They had an attack angel now; Dean started wondering how to use it.

"Chill out," Kevin said. If the whole fiasco did one thing and one thing only; it made Kevin Tran jaded to every damn thing on the planet. "It's not like we all worked miraculous cosmic powers here; we all got duped. We have just as much a right to a bout of crazies as you do, Cas."

"Castiel," Cas informed him, pausing behind Dean who was sitting on the couch to pant. Dean looked back at him, cocked an eyebrow. "My name has been corrupted just like everything touched by this godforsaken planet! It is truly godforsaken, we have actual proof! It's time to wash that influence away! My name is Castiel."

"Hey, easy there, tiger," Dean said to him and Cas glared at Dean like he had laser eyes and could bore a hole into his head. Dean thought that maybe Cas really did want laser eyes to bore holes in people's heads.

"Yeah, Cas, it's not like it's going to do much good now, is it?" Kevin said, rolling his eyes. "You can wash all the human cooties off and everything will be all right. Don't forget, you're a human now, too."

Dean winced a little, really wishing Kevin hadn't gone there. And then Dean did jump up, lock arms around Cas' chest and haul back. Cas had come over the couch at Kevin, and Kevin, not to be outdone, was ready for him, bracing in the chair, foot raised. But Cas didn't get past his nanny and instead writhed in Dean's arms like an unhappy cat. A strong, tall, adult male unhappy cat that Dean had to struggle to hang onto and drag back across the room. Sam appeared then and went to help Dean and got a foot in the stomach for his trouble.

"Hey," Dean yelled right beside Cas' ear. "That's enough of this shit!" And Dean shoved Cas against a wall, released him and stood there, panting, challenging him. Sam stood back, rubbing his stomach.

"Dean, I'm okay," Sam said behind him. "What's going on?"

"Dickhead here doesn't want to be a human, that's the whole fucking problem. Well, guess what, you ain't got a fucking choice." And Dean, who had been holding a lot in, trying to be patient and fueled by Sam's revelation, decided to have his own screaming at the wall. Only Cas was flattened there, glaring at him.

"In case you forgot," Dean bellowed, "you fucking did this to yourself. Why you think you got a right to take your petty, resentful, self loathing out on us is beyond me! What have I done Cas, what have I done? You think that because you're human now, and not a fucking angel anymore, it makes you less somehow? What are we doing here then? Why did I fucking come looking for you even after everything? Sammy was sick and left him to look for you, what does that say to you? What does that say? You want me to call you Castiel? Like that somehow raises you up from being other than you are? Fine, Castiel. Does that make it better? Does that really negate everything now that we human shit bags are giving you respect by pronouncing your full name? I'm getting real done with you," and Dean paused, to breath. "Dean," Sam implored, sure maybe some of it needed saying but not this way, not being screamed into his face. Cas was just looking at Dean now, almost slack jawed and his eyes kept darting anxiously all over Dean's face as Dean screamed.

"How about Castiel gets out of my sight for a while, he's good at that," Dean snarled, and Cas moved then, both hands on Dean's chest, shoving him back, and then he did go, running off, slamming doors. Sam sighed.

"Bitch had it coming," Dean said to Sam, Dean justified to himself. "He can't just treat us like shit and not expect some payback."

"Dean, all he wants is payback," Sam said. "All he wants is for us to prove to him he is a piece of shit. Remember what he told you about Purgatory? If he didn't think he deserved to be saved then ... " Sam spread his hands.

"Just fuck this shit; I've had enough for the day," Dean said tiredly, then he looked at Kevin who gave him a little shrug. "Do me a favor, don't provoke him, all right? He has this thing going on, give him some room. Just ... avoid him if at all possible, you'll make all our lives easier."

"Yeah, because that's what I live for," Kevin shot back and Dean just turned away and walked down the hall himself.

Kevin looked up at the sound in the doorway. It was 3am; the Winchesters had sacked out long ago; but for the prophet, the need to sleep was a petty annoyance. Study and tablets made it all but obsolete, and now the habit was too hard to break. He saw Cas there, hanging back and eyeing him. Kevin just shook his head, dropped his eyes back to the book in his lap.

"Going to have another go at me?" he asked without looking up. "No Dean to stop you now. I'm not supposed to provoke you however, so if this is provoking, don't listen. You wake anyone up and you'll have the nanny out here in no time flat."

"He would not wish for you to call him that," Cas said from the darkness in the hall. Kevin didn't know it, but that one statement was the closest Cas had been to himself for the last three weeks. But Kevin wasn't interested in the study of Cas (not like Dean was), so it had no impact; he didn't know its significance.

"So you're deciding what everyone is called now? Your hang up is names? Really?" Kevin did look up then because he heard Cas enter the room. But Cas just stood, right inside the doorway and let his gaze wander over the walls and the books and the table, but never directly on Kevin himself.

"I knew you were fucked up, but I didn't know you were an extreme headcase," Kevin told him. "Dean seems cheerily optimistic at all times."

"It's a false optimism," Cas told him. "He uses it when he feels bad so others don't know he feels bad. Why are you awake?"

"Why are you?" Kevin challenged back. It was weird to see Cas like this, looking lost in his own skin and wearing Dean's hand-me-downs. Cas had always looked intimidating and tall and serious. Now he looked confused and hunched and angry.

"I don't sleep," Cas said and watched Kevin with a tilt of his head and squint of his eyes, and waited for Kevin's response.

"Whatever," Kevin said with real disinterest.

Cas came closer, but kept something between them at all times. A chair, a table, some sort of barrier that kept him away.

"Are you angry?" Cas suddenly asked him. "Everything you love has been taken from you and you found out your purpose was a sham. Does that make you angry?"

"Damn right, it makes me angry," Kevin said, without sounding angry. "The universe is a great big lie. What do you think we have to live for? But you know what, I like being obsolete, so I guess that's something. I don't need to translate an angel tablet when there aren't any angels. And Crowley is ... you know, I don't know exactly what they did to him, but I don't want to know. If he doesn't come back like Dean and Sam say, that's good enough for me. Yeah, I'm angry, I'll be angry all my life. So what of it? Who is going to care?"

Cas visibly flinched but Kevin just shrugged.

"Dean says it's not a reason to give up," Cas quoted,. "Dean thinks it can all be fixed."

"Dean is blowing smoke up his ass," Kevin snorted. "He thinks he's got the pep talks down; but really? He has no more clue that any of us."

There was silence then, and Kevin returned to his book, and Castiel stood there, hugging his elbows. His feet were cold. Dean told him to wear socks but he didn't because he didn't like cold feet. Every little discomfort, the lack of sleep, the constant hunger, the cold; every little scrap he could gather he was saving for penance. But no one would care.

No one but Dean.

And what did he matter? What penance to offer to what God in what heaven? He looked up then as Kevin got up, went to the side table, poured himself some whiskey from the decanter there. He looked at Castiel, shrugged, offered the glass. "Here, learn the fine art of drowning your sorrows. Dean is good at teaching that, he has this shit all over the place."

Castiel took the glass. He was versed in alcohol, probably better than anyone. He remembered its early days. He remembered the early days of everything. He used to pride himself on this knowledge; he used to want to share this knowledge. He down the drink in a single go and Kevin gave a low whistle, got the decanter to pour him another.

"So uh, what was it like, being an angel?" Kevin asked, because in his heart of hearts he was a provoker and he had to be true to himself.

But Castiel didn't bare his teeth or grow his laser eyes. He just looked at Kevin, tired and used and worn, and he shrugged.

"A lot like being a human without the need to take a shit," he sighed and then squinted at Kevin when Kevin laughed. "I'm serious," Castiel continued. "As it turns out, there are a lot of exacting parallels you can't ignore. We, as angels, have just found the apple and taken a huge proverbial bite. We being me, you understand." Castiel downed the second glass quickly and Kevin, apparently ticked with the idea of getting an ex-angel drunk, poured him more.

"I used to think it all made a difference," Castiel said, stuck his nose in his tumbler and sniffed his whiskey. "You can imagine my surprise when it turned out one of the real roots of the problem was the fact we could make a difference. This whole free will thing; I wonder what Dean was thinking when he suggested it. I'm pretty sure he didn't imagine this outcome. He's sort of defeatist now, it kind of sucks. I liked to taste his optimism a lot more. Sam's the light at the end of the tunnel guy for the foreseeable future. I don't know if Dean will ever get it back." Then Castiel drank his whiskey and held out his glass for more. Kevin had to go hunt down another tumbler.

Kevin brought back a bottle instead, nicked from behind the big bar in the other room. He filled Castiel's glass and looked at him expectantly. Castiel took a big gulp, shuddered, then another one.

"You want to hear more?" he said and when Kevin nodded he grinned. Whiskey was funny, he liked it, it made him smile. "What do you want to hear about? I'm a fountain of useless trivia, you do know how old I am," and Castiel looked at Kevin from under his brows.

"Yeah, you would like remind us every five minutes." Kevin took his own drink then. "Doesn't seem like it did you much good, look at you," and Kevin made a half gesture. "Sitting here getting drunk in an old band t-shirt like the rest of us non-heavenly slobs."

"I'm not even supposed to be wearing this one," Castiel said gloomily.

Castiel shrugged, took another gulp of whiskey, gave Kevin a sort of glazed, half smile. But he didn't elaborate any further. Instead, he worked his way through most of the bottle Kevin had retrieved, and resentfully fell asleep on top of the war table.

Paniced voices roused Kevin from where he was sleeping sitting up in the chair. He blinked his eyes open just as Sam came in, looking around, then Sam stopped, ran a hand through his hair, exhaled.

"Dean! I found him, he's in here ..." and Sam pretty much ignored Kevin and headed straight for the drunk angel sleeping on the table. Dean came rushing in then, went right over, hovered over him. Then after a moment he let go a breath, shook his head, looked at Sam.

"He's asleep," Dean said. Kevin could have told them that.

"Drunk, too," Kevin said, just to be noticed. Both Sam and Dean turned to him then, Sam looking puzzled, Dean looking slightly pissed off. Kevin shrugged. "I was minding my own business, he came in and started talking and drinking. That's allowed, I'm taking it."

"Well yes," Sam said, but Dean cut him off.

"Talking to you like having an actual conversation?" Dean demanded. "Not just telling you how much he'd like to grind you under his heel?"

"Yeah, just normal, kind of whiny," Kevin supplied.

Dean looked at Sam, and Sam made a half hearted attempt to explain in facial expressions, but really, he had nothing. So Dean shook Cas hard.

Castiel started, gasped loudly and scrambled, it was all Dean could do to keep him from flipping himself off the table. Then Dean got him upright, feet on the floor and Castiel looked at him like he didn't know who he was. Then he coughed, his eyes went very wide, and he bent over and threw up on Dean's shoes.

"Oh Cas, no," Dean moaned. "Geezus, Sam.. "

Then Castiel was pawing at him, digging his fingers into Dean's shirt, and looking up at him with red and watering eyes, and Dean grabbed his shoulders to steady him.

"Cas, what were you thinking? You gotta be more careful, you can't drink liquor stores anymore, see? You made yourself sick..." Dean was now reaching for the towels that Sam had brought.

And Dean was there, and Dean still cared, and Dean called him Cas. And he just started to cry, silent tears with no words and no explanation, and Dean wiped those up, too, before taking him back to his room to clean up and sleep.

When he managed to get one eye open, Dean was there. Sitting in a chair, beside his bed. He had his elbow on his knee, his chin in his palm and Castiel actually jerked when he saw him, and that made Dean grin.

"You know, I think this is going to be the only payback you get from me," Dean informed him. "See how creepy it is now? See what a creeper you used to be?"

What the hell? Oh he'd slept. He'd drank and he'd slept. How infuriating. He dragged the comforter over his head.

"Hey, I got a bone to pick with you," Dean said. Castiel freed one hand from the comforter, showed Dean he'd learned how to shoot a bird. Dean actually swatted it, and Cas snatched it back under the comforter, all offended.

"How come you'll talk to Kevin and not to me?" Dean asked him point blank. "Why does Kevin rate conversation and I'm worried you're going to poison my coffee? Is it some weird bond because he's a prophet or something? Are you guys commiserating over how much the meaning of life blows or something? Work with me here, Cas, I've been patient."

Castiel said nothing; he decided his best response was just to be a lump under the comforter. So Dean started to randomly slap the lump and the lump jerked and kicked it's legs and tried to roll away, an arm appeared and swatted in Dean's direction without connecting.

Next Dean grabbed the comforter and started tugging and Castiel hung on for dear life, silent and stubborn and scooted down the bed trying to stay under it as Dean pulled. But Dean won and he dumped the blanket on the floor and Cas curled up in a ball and tried to push his face into the mattress, hissing.

"Talk to me," Dean said with great persistence, and poked Cas once, hard, right in the ass.

"Don't touch me!" Cas wailed and kicked and climbed back up to the top of the bed and lay there like a snake, coiled and waiting to strike.

"You talk to me, you fucking little prick, I am the one who gets to have the conversations," Dean yelled at him, pounding the mattress with his fist.

Cas shot him a bird with both hands then and pulled pillows over his face. Dean gave an angry snort and came after him. Cas half-yelped, tried to scrabble away, got in one really good pillow slap to Dean's face before he was grabbed by an ankle, dragged back down the bed and Dean put a knee on the small of his back. Dean fucking pinned him there face down and humiliated, he couldn't wiggle free. He couldn't throw Dean off, he couldn't just be the presence in the room that overwhelmed everything. He screamed in fury so loud it brought Sam running. But Dean warned Sam off with a look and Sam retreated down the hall to worry. They were both slightly panting now. Finally Cas went limp.

"Talk to me," Dean said slowly and clearly. He pressed down hard with his knee for a moment, then he slowly removed it. He gripped Cas' shoulder, rolled him over on his back and loomed over him. "I mean it, Cas, you need to let me in on what's going on in there," and he tapped Cas' forehead. Cas whirled like an angry cat, grabbed Dean's wrist and held it. Dean didn't react, just let him hold his wrist. Cas started to squeeze it and still Dean didn't try to pull it away.

"You know, we can do this forever, or you can get your head out of your ass and start learning how to live," Dean told him. "You see me right here, Cas? This is where I'm going to be. You'll be my project, my challenge; you think you can make me stop trying? You got another thing coming. I'm going to be right here, you heavenly dick-head, until you decide to come with me out into the world. I told you once I wasn't leaving without you, and I'm telling you that again." Cas released his wrist, shoved it away and just lay there, staring up at him.

"Why is this so hard?" Dean asked. "Why are you doing this to me and you and Sammy? Come on, Cas."

"Why am I so important to you?" Cas suddenly asked and Dean faltered and blinked at him. It was like being asked point blank what is your favorite movie; how do you choose?

"Why wouldn't you be?" Dean answered a question with a question to stall for time.

"That's not an answer Dean," Cas said from his strangely passive position on the bed. "You want me to talk to you, and I am talking to you, so answer my question."

"Family," Dean said automatically.

Castiel knew that answer was coming, he cherished that answer, but that was just how Dean tried to evade, and he wasn't having it.

"I thought that was a given," Castiel said, "is that all you can come up with?" He was deliberately flippant: he wanted to provoke a response, he wanted Dean to get agitated, even angry. Dean being aggressive was so much easier to take than Dean being understanding. But Dean didn't rise to his bait and Castiel started to feel tightening in his stupid human chest.

"You want a laundry list of why I think you're important? Why I'd rather have you?" Dean asked him, tilted his head, looking down at him. "Is that what you need, Cas?"


"No," he snarled aloud. It burned, it stung. He remembered those words from before when he was so lost in Sam's madness and there was Dean holding out his hand. And here was Dean, holding out his hand. Inviting Castiel in, showing Castiel that he would stand by him after all he'd done. Dean Winchester would help Castiel, angel of the lord, become human and he, Dean Winchester, would let him stay and never abandon him and never make him be alone with all he'd done. Dean Winchester was here to save him.

Castiel covered his face, rolled over to present Dean his back.

"Get out", he screeched and he held his breath until he heard Dean leave and shut the door behind him.

If Castiel was ever really, truly going to do penance; if he was every truly going to suffer for what he'd done ... Dean Winchester was the one thing that Castiel could never have.

He didn't know what to do; at every turn any offer he made was rejected. He didn't want to lose this battle, this one was very important, but he had no idea how to win.

He'd go make something. He'd make something that Cas wouldn't eat, but it was a thing to do and he needed to be doing. He went to the kitchen. Sam could see him there from the war room. Sam was looking at him all sympathy and curiosity. Kevin had retreated somewhere, probably a room to sleep off his hang over. Sam got up, sort of shuffled into the kitchen, sat on the bar stool at the counter there and tried hard not to pry.

"I don't know what to do with him Sammy," Dean went ahead and confessed, since he would sooner or later.

"Did he talk to you at all?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, a little. Wants to know why I want to keep him around and shit and when I try to tell him he starts screaming and tells me to get out." Dean shrugged, but it did hurt. He was surprised at how much it hurt.

"He doesn't think he deserves it, Dean," Sam sighed. "He doesn't think he deserves you. He's got ... angel mentality. He thinks he needs to be punished beyond the norms. He's going to deny himself everything he thinks might make him happy."

"Since when are you angel Psych 101?" Dean asked, pulling out bowls, ingredients, spoons.

"Since you started dating one," Sam said with a shrug.

Dean ceased all activity, turned and looked at Sam hard, gave him a disbelieving shake of the head. "Don't even start," he said, turning back to his bowls. "I'm not dating Cas, okay? And look, I know what you said earlier, but I think you're way, way off. I mean, if Cas is in love with me, like you claim, why the hell won't he just ... at least be civil to me?"

"Did you not hear everything I just told you?" Sam asked. "He doesn't think he deserves anything that might make him happy."

"Me? I would make him happy, me? Sam, you're my brother so I'm assuming you've been paying attention? This is me, the shit magnet. I don't make people happy, I pretty much do all I can to not make them dead."

"You know, you can be as obstinate as you want about it, but you know I have a point," Sam leaned over the counter more, "what are you making?"

"I'm making Cas a cake," Dean said with an exaggerated shrug. "I'll be fucked if I know why, like a cake is going to change anything. When he shoves it into my face at least I can lick myself clean. There, are you happy Sammy, I'm making the little angel who wants me dead a cake. It's nuts, it's all fucking nuts, look at me, I'm participating!"

"What kind?" Sam pushed.

"Just plain," Dean supplied, "thought I'd make some coffee frosting, though, he likes coffee, at least I think he likes coffee. He loomed over a cup anytime we used to go anywhere."

"I think he likes coffee," Sam said with a little smile. "You know, it's not only Cas being in love with you ..." Sam prompted.

Dean whipped around, pointed a spoon at him. "No," he said firmly.

Sam put his hands up in surrender and hung around to lick the mixer paddles after Dean made frosting.

Kevin had done enough damage and decided he was going to leave again for a while. There was little point in stopping him, and actually if Dean was truthful, he preferred dealing with Cas on a he-and-Sammy-only basis.

As it turned out crooning the word cake into Cas' ear had little effect other than to get Dean shoved in the face and ordered out of the room again. He and Sam sat around in the war room with two forks. They didn't even bother with cutting it or getting individual plates.

"You're really good at this," Sam said between mouthfuls. "You ever give up hunting you could probably start a restaurant."

Dean gave him a half-shrug, a half-smile, picked at some more of the cake in a disinterested way.

Sam didn't really want to do this, but maybe he ought to. "When are you going to the store? I'm low on advil." Sam felt dirty.

"I can go right now," Dean said, getting up. "What else, you got enough OJ? I'll go have a look." Dean headed into the kitchen.

Sam waited until Dean had gone through the fridge and every shelf they had and tallied up a shopping list, and after he was gone Sam waited a little more before he went down the hall and rapped on Cas' door with his knuckles. Dean made the effort to always announce himself before barging right in; that was because he was never invited in, but maybe Dean had that privilege, considering, Sam wasn't sure he did.

"Hey uh, Cas? You got a minute?" Sam called through the door. "It's about Dean."

This got him a quicker response than he intended. Cas opened the door and looked up at him and Sam stumbled over what to say. "Uh, hi," he tried. Cas looked down the hall, left and right, then back up at Sam.

"What about Dean?" he said in a reasonable and Cas-like tone.

"Can I come in?" Sam gestured into the room and Cas hesitated before stepping back and letting Sam come in. The comforter was still on the floor, there was a mound of pillows by the headboard. There were small piles of Dean's old clothes on the floor that probably needed washing.

"What about Dean?" Cas said again, behind him.

There was no easy way to have this conversation and Sam stood there trying to pick the least stimulating opening line. Cas squinted at him and tilted his head and Sam have him a smile, made a 'hang on' gesture and Cas squinted at him some more.

"Okay, let's just cut to the chase. Cas, I get where you're coming from, I do and you know I do. But it's like you're being just ... weirdly, overly a douche to Dean and I'm starting to wonder why. I mean I have my theories, I guess I just want to ask you to back off? Or something? He's sort of taking it hard."

Cas was motionless, but his eyes were scanning Sam's face, back and forth, slowly. "What theories would you like to put forth?" Cas asked, a small twitch in the corner of one eye.

"You have issues, Cas, great big I'm worthless issues," Sam rushed ahead, "I know, me too," Sam tried camaraderie,"and you see Dean as something you'd like to have. Me, personally? I think you're in love with him," Sam threw up his hands, "hear me out. And I think he ... he probably loves you too and I'm pretty sure that's why you're trying to drive him off, because that's what you're doing, Cas. You think you don't deserve him and you're trying to get him to give up on you. Like you want some fucking weird validation of your failures and you're trying to use Dean to get it. I don't like it, it's hard on Dean. You need to move the aggression somewhere else and cut it off or ... let yourself have him. He's my brother, Cas, I don't like to see him hurt."

"You are full of shit," Cas enunciated slowly. "What makes you think I'm in love with your brother? We were fellow soldiers in a war. Love requires more than the ability to fight together."

"Wow, okay, so you're into self-denial, too. You and Dean together could probably self-deny the planet right out of existence." Sam shook his head. "Do you have no idea how many times I had to watch you eye-fuck Dean?" Sam asked.

Cas narrowed his eyes, flared his nostrils. "I... what?"

"You stare at Dean like you can't live without him, I don't get the two of you! Look, fine, just ... how about this. Leave Dean alone, how does that strike you? If you want to be a dick to someone, look in a mirror. Dean only wants to take care of you, so you either let him and you make an effort or you leave him alone."

Cas tightened his jaw, clenched his fists, stuck his chin forward.

"You don't have any right..." Cas started shakily.

"That is where you are wrong, I got every right. Dean is my brother and I won't have him used like this. There is only so much more of this I'm going to tolerate. If you honestly want to go down the road of ripping yourself to pieces for all your infractions, then don't take Dean with you. I won't let you, are we clear?"

Cas said nothing, only stared at him.

"Cas, you're family, I mean it," Sam told him. "But you got to hold up your end of that, too." And Sam said all he felt he had to say and he turned away and walked out the door to get away from the look in Cas' eyes.

Castiel was pretty much impossible to live with for the next day. He locked the door to his room and refused to come out for any reason. Dean pleaded with him to eat. "Come on, it's just a sandwich, you're going to get sick then I'll have to take care of you and Sammy, come on Cas, please," and left food outside his door. But later, when checked, the food was there and untouched. Sam churned with guilt, but kept silent.

Sam watched Dean try to distract himself; to wait this out. He cleaned, he cooked, he went to the firing range for a good hour, he looked at the weight room and declined. He paced the halls and Sam thought about shooting him with a tranquilizer dart. Sam thought it was over when he persuaded Dean to go to bed (instead of sitting up drinking), but he should have known better. He heard Dean in the hall again, turned and looked at his clock, it read 2:13 am.

He heard Dean pace, up and down the hall and stop a few times. He heard a door knob rattle once or twice, a muffled curse. "Dean, go to bed!" Sam yelled and punched his own pillow a few times.

"Okay, fine," he heard Dean mumble in response. Then he heard Dean retreat back to his room, he heard the door shut, and that was the last he heard until morning.

The second day serenaded Sam awake with the lovely and melodic sounds of Dean pounding on Cas' door just down the hall.

"Cas!" Dean yelled through the door. "That's enough, unlock this door right now! You've been in there for a whole day. You either come out or I'm coming in!" There were several beats while Dean waited for a response. "Cas!" he warned again, then "Fuck it!" Sam heard the door slam back and he knew Dean had just kicked it open. So he got out of bed, grabbed his robe and jumped out into the hall just in time to see Dean stomp into the room.

Cas sat up wildly on the bed, he backed off the far side of it from Dean but Dean was not deterred. Dean pointed at him.

"I've had enough of you," Dean snarled. "You're bringing your ass into the kitchen, today, to eat goddamn breakfast even if I have to staple your ass to the bar stool."

"Stay away from me," Cas warned, his voice raw, his eyes red-rimmed and bright, and he backed away from Dean and pushed himself into the corner of the room.

"Cas, this is not you," Dean said, coming around the bed. "Whatever all this fucking is, it's not you. You have got to snap out of it man. You're better than this, stronger than this. I'm here! I'm right here, Sam is right here, trust us! Lean on us a fucking little, okay?"

Cas stared at him like he was an oncoming freight train and Cas had no where to go, he put a hand up as if to ward Dean off and Dean grabbed his arm by the wrist and pulled him away from the wall. That was when Cas whirled on him, drew back his arm and punched Dean, square in the face.

Dean felt the pop, heard the crack and swore. He felt the warm trickle down to his upper lips and when he raised his fingers to press there, he confirmed it: the angel had just given him a bloody nose. He backed up, looked at Cas and started to give him an exactingly loud piece of his mind. This was just it. But Cas was staring at him oddly, and panting, then Cas raised his arm again and Dean flinched back but Cas stepped forward, pressed two fingers to Dean's forehead.

But Dean's nose continued to bleed.

"That doesn't work anymore," Dean informed him, wiping at his nose again with the back of his hand, grimacing at the bloody streak it left. Cas pressed his fingers harder and Dean reached up and grabbed his wrist, jerked his hand away, and let it go. "Fuck this shit," Dean growled. "This is the last time Cas, the last time I let you get away with it." He moved to turn, to go out of the room and Cas grabbed his arm, so he stopped and looked at him again.

Dean never knew the circumstances of Cas' fall from grace: Cas never elaborated and probably wouldn't ever elaboratee. Dean had seen the falling figures, the balls of fire in the sky, Dean knew what it looked like. But here, right now, in this morning, in this hallway, he truly watched Castiel fall for a second time.

All the color left his face. His eyes trained on the blood on Dean's lip. Then he looked down at his own hand, and up at Dean again.

"Cas?" Dean said, feeling a little uneasy about this. "It's okay, it's just a bloody nose." Sam arrived then, stood in the doorway.

"What's happening?" Sam asked.

Cas screamed. It wasn't like before, it wasn't rage and frustration. It wasn't accompanied by any words or orders to get out. It was anguish and terror and Dean himself jerked in surprise, pulled his arm away. Cas gasped loudly when Dean did this, took a few steps back and began shaking so hard Dean thought he was going to fly apart.

"Cas!" Sam said, moving into the room, but Dean was closer, beat him to it, grabbed Cas by his shoulders as he folded in on himself. They both went to their knees and Cas kept sobbing for air and shaking like he wouldn't ever stop and Dean looked up at Sam for help. What should he do? What was happening? Sam grabbed the comforter off of Cas' bed.

"Hold him," Sam ordered his brother.

"I am holding him," Dean returned, looking at Cas, who was an arm's length away, being gripped by the shoulders.

"Hold him against you and try to calm him down," Sam ordered. "I would do it, but I'm not the one he wants. Hurry, he'll work himself into a panic attack, let me put this blanket around you both."

Dean looked at Sam, bewildered, but then Cas started to cry. It wasn't loud, it was soft sobbing hiccups and tears and he slapped at Dean's arm and his fingers snagged in Dean's sleeve and he tried to grip it. That was enough. Dean hauled Cas against his chest, wrapped his arms around him while Sam wrapped them in the comforter. Cas just laid against him and cried — low, sorrowful sounds, mumbled Enochian — and Dean started to rock him a little, not even conscious he was doing it.

"I'll make some coffee," Sam said, slipping out the room, making it more comfortable for Dean to comfort Cas and hoped it would be enough.

Dean pressed his nose to the top of Cas' head, he rubbed Cas' arm. He sat on his ass and pulled Cas fully into his lap.

"It's okay," he murmured, and was shocked when Cas answered.

"It's not, it's not okay, it will never be okay," Cas said, voice raw.

"Yes, it will be," Dean told him. "I'm going to make it okay. I'm right here, I'm going to make it okay again."

"You can't," Cas insisted. His voice sounded like it was bleeding. "You can't promise that. You're just a man. I'm just a man. I'm useless."

"I'm just a man, I'm useless?" Dean questioned him. "That's how you see it? Funny shit that, I stopped an apocalypse with my useless manly self. So did Sammy. You just got blown up and got Bobby messy. We did all the heavy lifting and you showed up fifteen minutes late with a Starbucks." Dean smiled at his own joke, rubbed some part of Cas he had his arms around.

"I didn't have a Starbucks," Cas said, quietly, sounding sad and confused.

And, oh, in that moment, Dean wanted to kiss him. Right there, in Dean's lap, Cas came back to him.

"I was scattered atoms," Cas continued. "If I had a Starbucks I would have brought one for everyone ... why are you saying that?"

"Because you said being a man was useless. Yeah, okay, the Starbucks thing was irrelevant but it was funny," he pressed his nose against Cas' head again. "Cas, if you think that because you're not an angel anymore I'm not going to have any use for you ... then I'm doing something wrong." He felt Cas jerk in his arms, just a little. "I know it hurts that you lost your wings, and I know there isn't much I can do about making that hurt go away; but you need to give being human a chance. Me and Sammy been doing it all our lives, it's not that bad. We need you here, I want you here. I don't know how many times I've said it, but if I need to say it every day, I will. It's going to be okay, Cas. There has to be some point where you finally start to trust me."

Cas pressed against him harder. His breathing was evening out and Dean guessed he wasn't crying anymore. And he was talking, just talking to Dean and Dean had missed this, so much.

"One of my greatest sins," Cas said very, very faintly, "was not trusting you more in the first place."

They just sat there together on the floor, wrapped in the comforter for a while; they didn't feel the need to say much more. But then Cas moved, pushed himself out of Dean's lap, got up and looked down at him. Dean watched him, got up after Cas was standing.

Cas studied the floor between them. "I'll clean up for breakfast," he offered, not looking at Dean's face.

"Thank you," Dean said. "It's about time you started appreciating my cooking. I'll just go get it started. Just come on when you're ready." Dean walked out, down the hall and then swaggered into the kitchen. Sam looked up from his cup of coffee, where he was sitting at the bar.

"Well?" Sam said, watching Dean get out his apron and big skillet. "How did it go?"

"I got it covered," Dean said, "I'm making him breakfast. He is going to clean up and come to eat it."
Sam let go a long breath.

"I wasn't sure we wouldn't be taking him to a mental hospital again." Sam rubbed his eyes and then looked at Dean.

"What can I say," Dean spread his arms. "I'm just loaded with charisma and charm."

"That's real sensitive, Dean," Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. "What really happened? And try not to be an asshole, okay?"

Dean let his arms drop, gave Sam a look and went to get eggs and bacon out of the fridge. He came back over to the counter where Sam was sitting and leaned there, looked at him hard.

"I told him I was here for him, okay? I told him he wasn't useless." Then Dean pushed off the counter and went to the cook top. "Why are you so fucking nosy about it, anyways?"

"Because I don't want you to fuck him up anymore than he's fucking himself up," Sam informed him. "Are you scrambling the eggs?"

"You want cheese in them?" Dean looked over his shoulder.

"Why are you even asking me that?" Sam said, and poured himself more coffee.

Then, slowly, quietly, Cas came into the room. He looked freshly washed, he was wearing a pair of Dean's pajama pants and one of Dean's band t-shirts and Dean's robe, probably taken right off the back of Dean's bathroom door. He came over not really looking at either of them, got up on a bar stool and folded his hands together on the counter top.

"Morning, Cas," Sam said, pouring him a cup of coffee without prompting and sliding it in front of him.

"Good morning, Sam," Cas said, pulling the cup toward himself by the handle, "thank you."

"I'm making eggs sunshine," Dean said, keeping his attention on the pan, "and bacon. Scrambled eggs with cheese good for you?"

"I ... don't know enough to have a preference, so, however you feel they should be prepared, that's how I'll take them," Cas said, finally lifting his eyes to look at Dean's back.

"Aha, a challenge. Scrambled today, tomorrow over easy, the day after sunny side up ... there's a list, we'll go through them one by one until you figure out which you like best," Dean said, still turned away.

"I don't want you to go to any trouble," Cas said. "Just however you're making them that day, that will be fine."

"No trouble," Dean said, blowing it off.

Cas sat there quietly. They were all quiet in this awkward newness; in the Sam and Dean plus one situation. Cas took a deep breath.

"I want to apologize," he said. And both Dean and Sam turned to him.

"No, Cas," Sam said first. "Cas, this is a clean slate for you, a whole new life. Let's start it right now. No apologies."

"I'm with Sammy," Dean said, breaking eggs into a bowl. "This is Castiel, the reboot. Everything is new."

"You're always far too good to me," Cas said quietly.

"Now that I agree with," Dean said, and Sam snorted.

Castiel's acceptance of his fate didn't mean anything was going to be smooth sailing. He was, after all, an angel of the lord and a colossal know-it-all.

"If you would read the instructions," Cas said calmly, one week and two days into his new life, "then hooking this up should be simple enough." Cas had pulled every piece of paper out of the box the new DVD player had been packaged in, and proceeded to read it. Dean informed him it was a threat to his manhood, Sam encouraged him to be informed; Sam predictably won.

"You two should form your own little nerd club," Dean told them, carrying the player over to the TV and turning the TV around to hook in wires. "Now watch how a real man just intrinsically knows how to do this."

So they both watched him hook in the wires, the rearrange them, then rearrange them again. He muttered to himself, tried each new set-up at least twice.

"Maybe we should go out and find a real man," Sam said to Cas.

"This is a damaging blow to his ego, we shouldn't really mock him yet," Cas told Sam. "We should wait until he shows the appropriate amount of contrition at his failure."

"Okay, you fucking nerds, you do it then," said Dean. He got up and made room and Sam came over and hooked the player up and Cas turned it on and it worked perfectly.

"So it's two against one now," Dean snorted. "I see how it's going to be. So you always going to be hooking up with Sammy?" It sort of stung and Dean wasn't aware why, but whatever, Cas should be on his side.

"I don't wish to take sides," Cas said by way of placation. "But you were informed there were instructions; you could at least acknowledge this was a lack of foresight."

Dean sucked his lower lip, nodded, got up and went over and got up the box for the trash.

"Please don't be upset at your failure to route minor electronics properly," Cas said, trailing along behind him. "If it's any consolation you almost had it right the second time you tried."

"Then why didn't you tell me?" Dean said, stopping to look at Cas.

"I didn't want to impede you being a man?" Cas said, looking confused. "You'll have to forgive my severe lack of human evaluative processes, I'm working on it."

Cas had this ability to insult the shit out of you but sound so honest and sincere while doing it that you wanted him to insult you some more. Plus, he seemed kinda sensitive to pissing Dean off to the point Dean was picking up on it and not having it pointed out by Sam.

"No, don't sweat it, you were doing me a favor," Dean reassured him, heading off with the box again. "Tell Sam you get to pick the movie tonight," and Dean took the box to the incinerator and left it there for the next time they fired it up.

When he came back he saw Sam in the war room and went over to see what he was looking at.

"Maybe," Sam told him as he approached. "It's time we got back in the hunt?" Dean looked at the opened news papers. Truthfully, he was missing it, but he'd had Sam and Cas to look after. Could it be, despite it all, that things were getting back to normal?

"We got weird deaths all over the place," Sam said, "and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I want to go on a road trip."

Cas joined them then, came over to the table to look down at the paper.

"So Cas, remember when you wanted to be a hunter?" Dean asked him, "did you mean it?"

Cas looked between the two of them.

"I want to help in any way I can, and I find your profession noble, so yes, I want to be a hunter," Cas told them solemnly and Dean looked at Sam and grinned.

Castiel trailed along behind Dean on the sidewalk. Sam came after him. It was funny, to be walking between them like this; usually he walked a little ways back and to the left, so he could watch where they were going; now he just watched Dean's back and followed. He wasn't sure what to think about that; but he went with it as Dean knew where they were going and he didn't.

They went into a store front. He read the letters above the door as Goodwill, and he thought that was a pleasant name for a shop. A shop that somehow, through the purchase of mass-produced items, generated goodwill among people. He could only assume his terminology was correct; otherwise he could quiz Sam about the implied meaning of the name; but neither seemed important at the moment.

Dean had mentioned they were going to obtain Castiel his own 'wardrobe'. Castiel really didn't see the need for this expenditure as Dean's wardrobe was more than adequate to cover himself with. But after a few t-shirt mishaps with various foods and household chemicals (and that one unfortunate stretching incident he still felt slightly guilty over), Dean had relegated him to a very limited wardrobe of just one t-shirt from a band he really didn't like. It had a hole in the front and Castiel had nervously picked it much larger than it had been.

The store was fairly clean but sloppily organized. Castiel started to point this out, but Dean caught him arm and brought him over to a rack of shirts.

"Here, let's get you some of your own shirts to ruin," Dean told him, then released his arm and started to shuffle through the racks. Castiel noted that Sam didn't participate in this activity, but rather he wondered up and down the aisles with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket. Then Castiel's attention turned back to Dean when Dean took a shirt off the rack and held it up to him. He gave it to Castiel to hold and Castiel put it back on the rack.

"Dude, what gives? Hold that one," Dean told him.

"I fail to see why you are picking out my shirts," Cas said calmly, starting to move things on the rack on his own. "You won't be wearing them so I think the predominant deciding factor should be my own. The shirt you gave me was plaid. If I wish to conform to the standards of Winchester dress I might have chosen that; but I believe it's more of a brotherly connection between you and Sam; so I will pass on the plaid."

Dean was giving him a confused look ,and Cas gave a little shrug and cycled past many shirts on the rack before pulling out one himself. He held it up on front of himself, like Dean had done with the previous shirt. The fabric was faded and softened from many washings. It had a collar and Castiel found he preferred that to the collarless t-shirts he'd been wearing. He hadn't thought of it before, but now, given the choice, he did.

"I like this one," he told Dean.

"Okay, great, I guess we'll have to find out how it fits, find some more," Dean prompted him.

Cas hung the shirt back on the rack being careful to keep it segregated from its fellows, then he pulled his t-shirt off over his head and took the new shirt he was contemplating and pulled it from its hanger and started in on the line of buttons down the front of it, flicking them open.

Dean caught a glimpse of Sam. Sam was sort of hopping in place and making exaggerated head gestures and pointing with his chin. Dean stood there, one eyebrow raised, and wondered if Sam realized what a spectacle he was making of himself. He then twigged after a moment that Sam was trying to get him to look at something. So he straightened up and turned around and looked at Cas half-naked there in the aisle behind him.

"Cas," he hissed, trying not to draw any further attention to them," what the hell, dude? What gives?" he deliberately kept his voice down.

Cas paused, in the process of putting one arm into a sleeve, and looked at him, squinted at him, tilted his head.

"I'm putting on this new shirt you will purchase. The other shirt has a hole in it," Cas informed him.

"Yeah, yeah, okay, but you know, you could have waited until we got home," Dean said.

Cas just looked at him, then shook his head and proceeded to shrug the shirt on, to work on fastening its buttons back up, then he looked up at Dean, smiled and said, "There is a human taboo about nudity in public places. I completely forgot. My apologies." Then he picked up the discarded t-shirt and offered it to Dean, "This is yours, thank you for letting me borrow it."

Dean came forward, snatched it and wadded it up in his hands. "Ok, so you get it, no getting naked in the Goodwill; no matter what kind of awesome song title that might be."

Cas gave him a serious nod, after a moment he added a 'thumbs up' sign. Okay, the angel got it, good. Good thing they caught him before the pants section.

Dean stopped helping, he just stood by and let Cas paw through the racks himself now. Sam abandoned them, waved at Dean as he pointedly went out the door and Dean let that wave stew in his stomach so he could come up with a good Sammy payback at a later date. When he turned back to Cas, Cas was sniffing a shirt now. He held up his arm and sniffed the shirt he was wearing, then he sniffed the shirt he had in his hands.

"What are you doing?" Dean asked. If Dean was honest with himself he sort of liked hanging out and watching Cas struggle with culture shock. Not because he got some perverse pleasure out of it; not that at all. But more being there while Cas discovered things for himself, being able to answer questions, being able to help him.

"I just enjoy the olfactory sensations," Cas told him. "Every garment smells the same and different." And that was it, no further explanation. Cas returned the shirt he was sniffing to the rack.

"You know, you don't have to be so formal," Dean told him and Cas turned to regard him, expression open and friendly. "Like we don't say olfactory, we say smell," Dean supplied helpfully.

"So my manner of speaking is pretentious?" Cas asked, frowned a little. "In all this time you're known me, you never mentioned this."

"Well you used to be... " then Dean stopped. "I mean you didn't use to be so public," he managed to gesture around, even though he had his hands in his coat pockets.

"I was always public," Cas said. "Are you saying because I have fallen from grace I should speak differently? I don't understand how that is of import."

"Well I guess it's not," Dean said, "it's just it sort of sounds funny now."

Cas twitched and eyebrow. "Sounds funny now? As opposed to what, when I had grace? It sounds funny now that I'm one of you, is that what you're saying?"

"I guess," Dean said, sort of eyeing Cas and sort of knowing that somehow, this was pissing Cas off.

"Well fuck," Cas said loudly, and Dean ducked down and whirled around and looked at people staring at them now. Cas pulled a few more shirts off the rack.

"Why didn't you say something before you brought me out in public," Cas continued loudly, "I should, after all, learn to moderate my tone or something, right?"

"Ok I'm sorry," Dean pleaded. "Just don't be psycho on me now, okay? Okay? I'm sorry." Dean gave him big 'please don't embarrass me' eyes. Cas threw the shirts at him, stalked over to the pants section, selected a pair, and sat on the floor and pulled his boots off. Then he stood, undid his borrowed jeans and dropped them. It wouldn't have been so bad if Cas weren't totally commando because buying him underwear was something they were going to do after buying him clothes.

Dean gathered up everything Cas had thrown then gingerly approached him as he was trying on pants and just being thankful the button-down he was wearing was long enough to cover most of him up.

"Cas," he stage-whispered, "don't get us arrested, dude, come on, be mad at me out in the car."

Cas looked at him with narrowed eyes, wiggled his ass into the jeans he got off the rack, then buttoned and zipped them up. He bent down and picked up his boots and he walked over to Dean and got inappropriately close and leaned in. Dean swallowed, didn't retreat and sort of leaned back.

"I think we need a talk about boundaries," Cas told him, quietly. "I was trying to be good; maybe you failed to notice and here you come thinking you are some kind of expert on etiquette. From what I have observed, even in my short time here, is that you have no more idea of how to act in a socially correct way than I do; and that's not points in your favor. Sam, I think, has more of a grasp, so I'll take my social cues there, you," Cas poked him in the chest then,"keep your opinions to yourself. Now go and pay for these clothes so we can leave."

And Dean scurried away to do it. What the fuck just happened?

After Dean paid, they went out and put everything into the trunk, then Cas hopped up on it and put his boots back in. He kept looking at Dean, but Dean kept looking away.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you," Cas told him, "but you are notorious for needing a hands-on education."

Dean whipped his head around to look at him. "What? Who told you that?"

"Sam." Cas shrugged and slid off the trunk to stand beside him. Dean looked at him, standing there close, looking off down the street. He was in a faded button-up shirt with some sort of really washed-out design on it, and borrowed boots. He had a day's beard on him, halfway shaved back, sort of like he did it himself, and he looked like Cas but not. And it was weird and when he turned to catch Dean looking at him, he squinted, and okay, that was less weird because Cas did that all the time.

"Uh, Sam's probably off in a bar somewhere, and it probably has food," Dean said as he pulled out his cell phone, flipped it open. "Let me find out and we'll go join him and have some lunch."

The phone rang and Sam picked up and told Dean which bar he was in and Dean looked down the street, then clicked the phone closed and headed off, expecting Cas to fall in step behind him. Cas did it, like clockwork, and Dean slowed until Cas was abreast. They walked quietly and then when they got to the bar in question, Dean elbowed Cas and nodded at it and went over and opened the door for him, and Cas hesitated, then gave Dean a wry look before preceding him in.

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